A Tiny Bit More Than Make Believe

Who made you? I certainly didn’t. How could I? I’ve never had a thought like that in my life. But you do. Lots of them.

When you speak, it doesn’t sound like me. Sometimes I feel like your voice comes from some other place, a place that’s far away from this chair where I sit at my computer. Not here, in my head, where I thought your voice belonged. I want to understand you. I really do. Actually, isn’t it impossible, me not knowing everything about you? I made you up, after all. So, then why do you continue to surprise me? And not just you. All of you. Every character in my book. Every time I sit down to write, you say something I never would have expected. Something I didn’t know existed in my mind.

I stare at the words, written across the screen in front of me. A part of me is shocked by what I’d written, by what he’d said. Where, I thought, had that come from? Wasn’t I writing this story?  Lately my characters seemed to be on their own, long ago having shed the tethers that kept them bound to me. They were renegades now, grown too independent for me to control them any longer. I thought about the character who had spoken. What story would you weave, storyteller, if I let you? Where would you take me? And most importantly, would I regret going? I leaned back in my chair and thought.

Where do our characters come from really? And what exactly are they? I wonder about that often. I believe the answer is perhaps a little more complicated than one might expect at first glance. To many people it appears obvious. They’re fake. They don’t exist. They’re just something some overly caffeinated writer somewhere dreamed up. Right? Somehow though, I don’t think that’s true. But I don’t really have a better answer.

Are they memories? Dreams? Hopes? Figments of imagination? They’re more than that, I think. They’re pieces of light, beings made almost real by how much we as writers believe in them, existing some place between reality and fiction. Something a tiny bit more than make believe. I think a character is a collection of faces, of people we’ve known, of words and stories we’ve heard.  Of wishes we have for ourselves. Of revenge and blessings we’ve wished on others. Something we’ve secretly hoped. Or maybe silently feared. Made into something new. Something that opens like a flower, revealing the dozens of colors hidden inside all along. Something that takes flight and soars into the world, influencing and teaching and inspiring and entertaining and creating. Sometimes literally changing the world, as well as the people they speak to through the pages. Something like that is more than just fantasy. More than illusion and more than just imagination. It has to be.

I listen to them speak, sometimes, and it amazes me. I watch them as they shape themselves and grow clearer and stronger as time progresses. They emerge from the mist, slowly at first, just an outline. Until one day when I can see them, and I know them, like old friends. But what does this all say about me? Characters, what can you teach me about myself? If you’re strong, does that mean I’m strong? If you’re kind, am I good too? But conversely, if you’re evil, what does that mean? And should I be afraid of that? These are the things I think about when I’m writing.

I lower my hands from the keyboard, and re-read the sentences I had just written. Should I change it? I finally shake my head. No. I don’t know from what part of my mind it all comes from, all of these things they say and do. And I’m not sure that at this late hour it is something I care to think too much about. The world around me is sleeping, and I know I should be too. I’d rather think about the things they’ll do, plan their next adventures and try not to worry too much. And tonight I’ll dream, in that place somewhere between fantasy and reality where they all live.

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