Do I Secretly Hate My Characters?

Last night as I was attempting to sleep, I thought I’d sign off on consciousness for the day by spending some time with my new characters on a potential novel called SOULMANCER. I figured I’d follow them about their day, maybe imagine up some interaction, etc.

Then, out of the blue (or black, since it was night), I found myself telling them that they shouldn’t expect me to get too cozy with them, since I would never love them as much as I would the characters of NAMELESS.

What, what, what?!

Sitting bolt upright in bed (not really), I realized I had just vocalized an issue that has been bothering me for the past few months as I seriously considered moving on from NAMELESS and working on new projects. Perhaps the reason I’d had so many stories suffer from Sudden Novel Death Syndrome in the last year wasn’t due to insufficient pre-plotting, but instead a self-sabotaging, unconscious profession of love for NAMELESS.

September 2010 marked the 7-year anniversary of the day I first started working on NAMELESS. That’s SEVEN years with these characters, getting to know them in all their various emotional states. Let’s face it: these are my imaginary friends. I know everything about them. Give me a situation and I’ll tell you their reactions, instantly. I enjoy them, love them, and never want to let them go.

Turning NAMELESS into a single book from a trilogy means I will get less time with them than I thought. Yes, I still have a few years ahead of me where I will interact with them in edits, then in promotions, and then in releases, but they only get one golden age. My time with them is limited, and that makes me sad.

So when I have new characters cropping up and beginning to sidle closer for the chance to get their story told, I guess I got a little defensive. I didn’t WANT to fall in love with other characters. Spending time with them felt like cheating on NAMELESS.

Has anyone ever felt like this? I want to give my stories the love and dedication they deserve, but I don’t know if writing a book in 3 months gives me enough time to really get to know and love the characters. I want to write books that connect with people, which means they must connect with me as well. Otherwise the characters end up shallow.

But you don’t get years and years in publishing. I want to have a career. A book out every year. Will that mean sacrificing the close relationships I want to have with my characters?

Who I’m Writing For

Yesterday Chris and I went out to dinner with his family to celebrate his sister’s birthday. Half way through the meal I looked across the restaurant and saw a girl who just broke my heart.

She couldn’t have been more than 8, and a miraculous mix between what I looked like at that age, and what my littlest sister looked like a few years ago. Slightly chubby, bangs too short and sticking up, bright blond hair, round, pink cheeks, and hyperactive. When she smiled I saw my same teeth pattern. But her mother was very overweight, and I saw the same future for her. I could trace her path through middle and high school, and it wasn’t pretty. Not because being overweight (how do we define that anyway?) is necessarily bad, but because kids are cruel and loneliness is crushing.

She was the most beautiful little girl in the world to me. I wanted to talk to her so strongly I was almost crying. I wanted to tell her what it was like growing up, what she’ll have to watch out for, and that all the bullshit waiting for her didn’t mean a thing as long as she could be happy with herself.

Something was telling me I needed to talk to her. You know that feeling you get when you see someone and know that they desperately need someone to say the right thing to them? Or you just happen to be in the right place and right time to change someone’s life, and it’s like there’s a force guiding you through it? I’ve been a little off-balance lately, but as soon as I made my peace with God miraculous things started happening, and this feeling was the latest in a string of them.

I felt bad all through dinner because I didn’t have the courage to go over to that table and tell her mother that she had a beautiful daughter, who looked a lot like me when I was younger. But I finally got my chance afterwards, as both our families met in the bill paying area. I got to say hi to her, and hearing her speak was spooky, because it was the same voice I heard when I played old home videos of me.

Like most things in my life, I related this experience directly to writing, and a suspicion I’ve had for some time: I’m not writing for anyone but myself, especially past versions of me.

All of my stories are designed to entertain young!Savannah specifically. I know it’s more altruistic to say that I write for teenagers in general, or those who are misunderstood, or who escape in books, etc., but the truth is I’m just writing the books I would have loved with a burning passion if I had read them when I was younger.

If they appeal to you, too -hooray! I’m so glad we found a way to connect! But even if no one else in the world enjoyed my stories, I’d keep making them.

I guess it all goes back around to my favorite writing quote, and the one that guides me the most: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison.

What is your personal writing philosophy?