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26 November 2012

Imaginary characters do what I tell them

It struck me today that one of the things I like about writing is a character you create can't do something you don't want it to do.

I know what you're thinking.


Maybe there's a literary type out there who cottons to the notion that sometimes a character just overtakes the story and the best the author can do is serve at its behest. That is all nice and romantic, but I also think it's crap.

Any time a character tells me it wants to do something I don't want it to do I just say "The hell you will" and the conversation is over. The story itself might start making demands, but that is different. When a story speaks, you are dealing with consequences of previous choices or undercurrents of actions yet to be made, ones you might not even know about, and you're a fool if you ignore the story when it speaks, but characters themselves don't know squat. Bitch slap them a couple of times and they always fall in line, even the strong ones.

All this is miles from where my thought process was when I started this entry. The genesis of the idea came yesterday when I told my youngest the truth about Santa Claus. He's ten, and my wife and I feel we actually got an extra year or two of magic from him on this front. My other two kids were eight when they started pressing hard enough to learn.

So, English major that I once was, I can do this simple math. Three kids that call me dad. Three kids now who can see through the fake beard. Even if I take away the true meaning of Christmas, which I try not to do, December the 25th remains wonderful in many ways. But the magic of Santa will be absent from my house for a time. Grandkids some day, I suppose, but I'm safe from that for a while.

If only my kids, my creations, could learn a lesson or two from my lesser creations, those I type into existence on this keyboard. Of course I don't actually mean that, but it would make some things easier.

For instance:
  • I'd never have to come clean about the man in the red suit. Not once.
  • I would never have to stay up into the weekend AM watching late night TV worrying if curfew would be broken and if so why.
  • I would never be asked for money . . .

Hmmm, maybe I take back what I said above about not meaning it.

Tell me how I'm wrong. A character from a book does what you tell it to do. The character only surprises you when you give it permission. It lives life more like a shooting star than an actual one, flashing onto the stage and burning bright, but once you have the story down the character is eternal. It doesn't change, sure, but it will never die.

Maybe I went about this whole creation thing wrong from the beginning.