An Ultimatum To My Future Character
CALLING ALL CHARACTERS!!
Dear Invisible Characters:
This is just an all points bulletin to let you all know that Sing Me Home is done, finished, kaput, already published. Um, and it’s been that way for, like, a couple weeks now. And so it really hurts me that none of you have shown up yet. I don’t know if you know it or not but I have this idea that a part of me wants to write about because it’s important. But a story without a character is not a story so, no matter how much research I do in preparation, I can’t write a single line without one of you. See, some writers are inspired by the stories. But I am inspired by you. I can’t get excited about a story without one of you. Frankly, I doubt very much I could make it through one of my typical plots without you there, cheering me on. You are what motivates and pushes me on. You are what I think about when I should be sleeping. You are the reason I laugh and cry when I’m writing, sometimes even doing both in the midst of the same chapter, when I’m lucky. I really miss how you kind of shadow me during the daytime, pointing out things in the universe that I totally overlook without you, like how the constellations could be the basis of a sweet conversation between lovebirds. Aria pointed that out to me one night and the scene in which she and Hawk discuss Andromeda‘s constellation remains one of my favorite in the book. I re-read it today and felt all sappy. And one day, while I was at Baskin Robbins, a tall, beautiful man with a charming smile whispered how funny it would be to taste test all 32 flavors of ice cream. Ash was one of you and he went on to become one of my most beloved, precious characters. So, impatiently, I wonder things like: who are you? where are you?
I’ve had Taya on my heart lately, been missing her ferociously this past week. I re-read her entire story last night. Once I was finished, I re-read parts of Aria’s story. Then I went on a hunt to track down books whose pages I have not seen in awhile. I found “Cherokee Highway” and promptly got lost in Latham’s story. As I unearthed the multiple notebooks, I ran across the outline for Sing Me Home. As I stared at its illegible pages and all the notes scrawled in the margins, tenderness washed through me. I hate outlines. Writing them is a tedious process; adhering to them is an even more tedious undertaking. But it’s in the writing of the outlines that I get to know you. Shivers ran down my spine as I wrote the last chapter’s events; she was going to be okay. And Landon! He had his own book, back in the early 90s, and I fell in love with him. I can’t even tell you how tickled pink I was when the same Landon I remembered started shadowing me during the writing of Sing Me Home’s outline. When I realized that he was going to be a part of this new book, still sporting his signature cowboy hat, oh my heart sang! I thought of how Clayton kept yelling at me to get his family right. When, mid-book, his dad, Pete, wrapped Abrielle in a fatherly hug she’d never known before, I wept. That night, Clayton smiled at me gently, nodding. He’d known all along that it would be a secondary character to make me melt; that was part of the reason my “getting his family right” was so important to him. When Mary Beth from Holding Home first appeared to me, I thought she was a grown woman. I thought the story would be from the perspective of the battered wife. It wasn’t until I wrote Michael’s first chapter that I realized Mary Beth was a little girl and this story had two voices. It explained why I’d been seeing a little girl and a little boy shadowing me for weeks. In all the cases, the characters have shown up first. I’ll be minding my own business, going about life, when, out of the clear blue sky, I’ll “see” one of you. Not tangibly of course; I’m not crazy. But, nonetheless, I know one of you is there. Usually, I have no idea what your name is. Usually, I have no idea what your story is. But I know what you look like and about how old you are. And I know key things about your characteristics—funny, vulnerable, hero. Once you show up, I wait. The time I have to wait varies depending upon you. With Michael and Mary Beth, it was a couple days. With Anna, it was about a month. With Taya, a couple weeks. And Aria took about a year to fully realize all the nuances of her character; I actually wrote an entirely different book because Aria wasn’t ready to tell all of her story.
So there you’ll sit for awhile, crowding the corner of my brain. I’ll become hyper vigilant, looking for clues about what your story might be. And then, quite suddenly, either a full scene or a partial one will play like a movie in my head. I will rush to write the scene down and, by the time it is written, other scenes will be competing for my attention. When I’m not writing, you’ll be there, in the back of my mind. When a stranger says or does something that strikes you, you’ll whisper, “remember that.” It will either be in a forthcoming scene or the basis for one. My everyday life becomes the equivalent of movie set; each piece in it potentially significant in your life and story. Different characters have different personalities. Some are very demanding. I’ve heard “write it NOW!” and “NO! That’s NOT right; do it again!” more times than I can count. Others, though, are more tolerant. Taya, for instance, was almost silent until the last few chapters of the book, at which time it became crucial to her I get things right. That made me fall in love with her even more because the details of her death—what she would wear, how she would arrange it—were what mattered most to her. It made me ache for her and even now, months afterward, it makes me miss her.
I am very much looking forward to meeting you. I wonder if you’ll have blonde hair like me or red hair like Taya. Will you live in the modern day or will your story take place in the “olden day”? Is your story from the topic I’ve been researching the last week or so? Is it that you want me to thoroughly understand the topic before I attempt to write your story–was it you that inspired me to start the research? Or is your story something totally different and the research an internal curiosity I’ve been satisfying lately? Will you want your story told in first person or third? Will you be a child or will I get to write the story of an adult? Will you demand wild things of me like Mary Beth did (she’s the one who made me draw sketches of her world…and include them in the book) or will you be more laid-back like Ash? It’s more than that I’m curious—you see, characters like you become true friends. You know (and sometimes use) all my innermost secrets; your stories allow me the chance to feel like I’m part of a group. I feel normal and healthy when I’m writing and I thoroughly enjoy getting to listen in on your conversations. I feel great pride when you succeed and hurt deeply when you are vulnerable. Not so long ago, I gave a speech in front of a large group. I held “The Character” in my hand during at least half of my presentation. At the end, a woman commented on it. I hadn’t even realized I’d been doing it until she said she could tell the books meant a lot to me. They do. They give me comfort and have helped me process and deal with difficult things in a constructive way. What part of me is going to be invested the most in the writing of your story?
I realize that, since you have yet to show up, we don’t know each other very well but you can tell from my history with characters that I deeply love you. I care about you and your story and cannot wait to write it down. In fact, we have sort of an issue. You see, I have about a hundred and five or six books that are still lounging away patiently in trunks in multiple notepads. As I said, today I unearthed all eleven notebooks of “Cherokee Highway.” As I read it, it dawned on me how patient the characters in the hundred and five or so books that are still in handwritten format have been all these years. I mean, they’ve seen Ash get e-mail after e-mail from readers. Michael and Mary Beth have gotten quite a few too. Abrielle’s gotten a couple and Taya’s already received her share. But no one knows that Latham or Sully even exist. No one has ever heard of Dusty and Hayes’ friendship. And, while having a new character makes something deep inside of me blossom, I still love all my older characters too. I don’t want to issue an ultimatum or scare you or anything like that but, if you don’t show up pretty immediately, I might have to resort to typing up and re-writing their books instead. Because I have to write. It’s just the way God made me; writing is in my DNA, I cannot be completely happy without a story to write. And since I can’t write a story without a character and you’re taking your sweet time in showing up, I mean, I’m about to run out of options here. Revisiting my older characters and typing up their stories is the only choice you’re leaving me with. I’m sure you’ll understand because, after all, you are part of me regardless of whether or not you want to admit it.
There have been numerous books that were especially difficult to write. The Character, for instance. Forget Me Not. During both of these books, either Jessie or Anna had to actively push me to finish writing. There were nights in both that I would write half a chapter and have to stop because of the tears blurring my vision. There were days where I was so emotionally drained I would literally stare out into the sky, picture my characters, and cry. Neither Jessie nor Anna, though, would give up. Jessie barely allowed me a break at all. Anna would allow me to rest overnight but would then start hounding me to finish that chapter already. My point is that my characters have been known to push me out of my comfort zone. Anna and Ash in particular. Before the two of them, I had never written a book in first person. But Anna was insistent; it would be written that way, she said. So I listened and just recorded what she dictated. So, I’m thinking, maybe you just need to be pushed a little bit out of your comfort zone. What if, it occurs to me, you are my clone? What if pushing people isn’t your thing at all and you’d rather just wait until I slow down or be still for a moment? What if, it occurs to me, you’re still in a really vulnerable place and aren’t sure even that you want your story told at all? What if you need me to do the pushing? So, that’s what this letter is: a call to action, Tiffini letting you know she’s ready for you and your story, whatever it may be. No matter how crazy, no matter how sad, no matter how personal it might hit to home…. bring it on. Do you have crazy people in your family? No problem, so do I! Have you been hurt? No problem, so have I! Are you rebellious, do you break the rules? No problem, Aria broke them all; Jessie broke a boy’s nose. I may not look like it but, trust me, I’ve got you. Are you overly shy, complacent to the point of ridiculous? No problem, so am I! Are you addicted to something? No problem, I can handle that! Are you a war veteran? No problem, I know World War 2 better than a lot of so-called “experts.” Are you riding a white horse, looking for a damsel in distress and thinking the author of a book like Broken couldn’t possibly tell your happy story? No problem, I would love to meet you! Seriously, if you’re an imaginary person with a story to tell, you are my friend. Come say hello!
Or risk having old characters like Latham take all the glory!
See you soon,