March Round Robin topic is suggested by Dr. Bob who wrote: My friend Anna Jacobs is a bestseller, with now 77 books published, although she is best known in Britain and Australia. She was complaining of being emotionally drained by writing a scene, and said, “Are you all sure our characters aren’t real?”
So the topic is: Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?
That’s two questions, and I have entirely different reactions to them.
How real are your characters to you?
My characters are MORE real to me than the three-dimensional, material people running around on this planet. This is because by the time I am well into writing a story, I know everything about them, and actually more than they know about themselves. I know their every thought, even those they refuse to acknowledge. I know their every emotion, and can predict how they will react to any situation. I love them all, even the baddies, and thank them for having come into my world.
Even the ones very different from me are expressions of myself. At the same time, they are the fruit of a lifetime of observation. As an introverted outsider-by-choice, I have always watched other people, and learned from them, and all this information is stored away. It’s there… somewhere. So, when I want a rebellious space rock, or a cowardly hero, or a wise old lady, they come, syntheses of many people from my past.
They are also my teachers. When facing a difficult situation, I often ask myself how one of my characters — Bill Sutcliffe or Sylvia Kryz, for example — would handle it. If I make a mistake, or react badly, I compare myself to a character whose behaviour I disapprove of, and this helps me to work out how I should do things the next time.
Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes?
Not usually. It does happen. In my series, The Stories of the Ehvelen, one of my favourites is Porcupine the Inventor. He is a handsome man famous for his wisdom, strength and agility (among a strong and agile people).
In one scene, he is reporting to his friends about his project of tricking a group of Doshi, who are their mortal enemies. He laughs, saying, “Maybe I should become a storyteller.”
That struck me between the eyes, and floored me. As author, I was required to make it come true. Only, among the Ehvelen, storytellers are people who have terrible physical handicaps, and have gained unusual wisdom through suffering. Porcupine didn’t know, but I did, that the terrible suffering was just ahead of him. I did not want to subject him to it… but I was forced to.
I knew what was to happen. One of his inventions was a person-carrying box kite that flew above the Doshi, terrifying them, because they had a myth of the Dra Chen, a flying, fire-breathing monster. On one of his flights, his Dra Chen had to catch fire, and burn his face, blinding him and making him horrifyingly ugly.
I had the details and consequences clear in my mind. All the same, I went onto a different part of the story, and was unable write this disaster for months.
Fortunately, while writing about subsequent events, I learned from his reaction to tragedy, and was inspired by it. He did become the Third Storyteller. From being the inventor who thought up many ways of killing Doshi, he became the healer who eased the pain of others struck by tragedy.
This, however, is an exception. For the most part, a successful session of writing — writing anything — leaves me feeling great.
German kitemaker Joachim Nellisen has the right idea. Only, Porcupine RODE his dragon.
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