First, I want to again thank everyone who commented on last Saturday’s post. You really helped me move forward through this morass of self-doubt.
From your comments, I see I’m not the only one dealing with difficulties this winter on the creative front. And 4amWriter’s Monday post brought to mind something the characters from Summer at the Crossroads did. As you can guess from the title, they staged an intervention of sorts. On August 7, 2009, I couldn’t get them out of my head. As I worked on the day job, I could feel them trading barbs with each other, even if I couldn’t make out the words. Finally, that afternoon I switched to a blank file and let them type.
Type they did. Under the pretext of expressing concern over events in the life of someone close to me, they told me what I was missing in the book. Here’s part of the exchange, withholding names from “our” universe and simplifying the presentation.
ME: All right folks; let’s try to put the bickering aside for a bit. I know you all want to have your say. But who’s going to start?
KATHRYN: Well, I think I can speak for all of us when we say we hope everything’s going okay for XYZ in your universe.
KATHARINE: Who appointed you spokesperson?
ME: Hey, keep to the subject, Katharine! I’ve about had it with all of you today. Do you know how hard it was to concentrate on PAYING work?
SUZANNE: Well, I’d like to say that I could probably pick up some pointers from XYZ on keeping things quiet. From the e-mails I’ve seen, JMM, they tell you even less than I tell Kathryn. And at least I have a professional reason for that.
KATHRYN: Yeah, thanks, Suzanne – you tell JMM who you’re really working for before me? We’ve known each other for years! And by the way, Spook, I’m not saying anyone appointed me spokesperson. I was just trying to set a polite tone and open with something that I think we can all agree on.
MICHAEL: Ladies, put a lid on it and get back to the discussion, please.
ME: Thanks, Michael.
SUSAN: Look, I know I don’t appear much in the book, but I certainly agree with Kathryn. I hope everything’s okay. But really, JMM, maybe you should ease up on XYZ. They’ve got a lot on their plate right now. Maybe they need some breathing room.
KATHARINE: I’m not so sure about that. XYZ seems to be doing with friends what I do professionally – deflect the interest from me, or them in this case. I do it to get intelligence. I think they’re doing it to avoid talking about a difficult subject.
KATARINA: Well, maybe XYZ tells more to other friends and doesn’t want to bother JMM with the details right now. Maybe XYZ likes the ‘normalness’ of that friendship.
SUSANNA: Good point, Katarina. Maybe XYZ doesn’t want to say much to any friends. Maybe they don’t know any more than JMM does.
MIKHAIL: Well, I don’t claim to understand your American fondness for ‘therapy,’ but isn’t that what good friends are for? You can tell them things and don’t have to worry about what they’ll think? Because they accept you and like you no matter what? Is XYZ worried that somehow the State will get the information and use it against them?
FRANCOIS: You Russians would certainly know a thing or two about that.
MIHAILO: Please, all of you, could we get back to the discussion as Michael suggested? This ‘bickering’ as JMM calls it is unproductive, don’t you think?
ME: Thanks, Mihailo. But maybe Katarina and Susanna are right. Maybe I shouldn’t be on XYZ so much.
KATHARINE: I don’t agree, JMM. XYZ did mention to you that they need someone to keep on them. And isn’t that what your gut instincts tell you to do?
ME: Well, yeah….
The conversation kept going, but you get the gist. I learned a lot about these characters from it.
The forcefulness of Katharine’s comments struck me. They revealed an edginess I had missed in writing her character. Always-diplomatic Kathryn could stand up for herself more than I thought. And Suzanne verified what I suspected, but couldn’t yet prove.
They didn’t provide new scenes or instructions for bridging some gaps in the story flow. But their voices came out, unfiltered. I learned more about their personalities, which let me flesh out the initial draft. It’s an exercise I recommend. I just hope the non-writers in the audience don’t start thinking I might need medical help!
Fellow writers, have your characters ever done anything like this to you? Non-writers, would you now move away from a writer if you met one at a party?