Characters. They have a life of their own.


People often ask me, “Jess, what’s the secret to a good character?” and I tell them “It’s making a character that comes to life.” at least I would if people actually asked the question. But I’m already digressing. You might take that metaphorically, that when you read about a character he/she comes to life, leaps out of the page, whatever fun little metaphor you want to use. What actually mean is that they almost literally come to life. For me it can feel a little bit like schizophrenia. In fact, after working on Across the Wall for two years (and the two or three weeks I worked on it almost non-stop after least year’s exams) I actually started to believe that they were real people who might turn up on my doorstep and if that happened I would be very unpopular (I’m a real bitch sometimes. Weiss must hate me and pray for my imminent death).

After a long break I managed to return to my semi-normal state of mentality, but the characters a still there telling you their stories. And they’re quite pushy. If you start writing something they don’t want to do you’ll know about it and they’ll refuse to allow you to continue until they get their way. We call it Writer’s Block. Every time I’ve been struck by the Block I’ve started again and it’s gone a little more smoothly until Bam! I upset the characters again. Sometimes you find out where your mistake is straight away, but sometimes they’re so upset that you get the cold shoulder and are left floundering around for days, weeks, months even. I have rewritten Across the Wall at least seven times since I dreamt up the initial idea (no I literally dreamed it, it was a lot more farfetched then but I cut out the flying motorbike) and it’s been a little different every time.

My main character Emma started out as a teenage rebel (who was a tad crazy) who went to an Academy to study animal sciences. Then she fell off a cliff and acquired a slight limp, but could still fight like a demon when she had to, she had also never been in a relationship; this lasted for two or three rewrites. Take 2, Emma had a mental illness that made her crazy when she was being threatened and still went to an Academy and still had a slight limp after her 50 foot drop; this lasted for one rewrite. Take 3, same as take 2 but without the academy and Emma was older; lasted two or three rewrites.

Recently, Emma held up her hands and went “Whoa, stop, this is just stupid and unrealistic. Let me tell you how it is and this time you actually pay attention instead of wandering off to write about someone else, alright genius?”

So I listened because I wanted to finish the book and couldn’t risk incurring the wrath of any characters, least of all the most bitter. So now things are as they should be. Emma is bitter and twisted and hates pretty much everybody in Haven City. Her one goal is to escape the city and she is obsessed with time. She has a serious mental illness in which her consciousness is suppressed and a new consciousness rears up and tries to kill everything in sight (oh yeah, it’s one helluva party with Emma). She’s a borderline alcoholic, which in everyone else’s terms means she’s in denial. After her fall she is crippled and can’t walk without the support of her trusty cane. She no longer fights unless her other consciousness rears up. And most recently she popped up and revealed that, although I always had my suspicions, she had indeed had a relationship with a certain gentleman. There is more, of course, but I can’t tell you everything, that’s only the beginning.

Phew. Now before you think that I actually am a complete nutter, this is, of course, all metaphorical. A voice didn’t pop in my head saying “You wrote me wrong” followed by a vulgar insult (classic Emma). This was all a progressive thought process where the ideas suddenly pop into my head and I think, “By the Gods, of course!” and then write it all down nice and quick. The point is it feels like the right thing for the character to be doing. It’s like having very bossy children who are sometimes older than you and you sometimes kill in ways that are sometimes not very nice (what a heart-warming metaphor). But just because I kill some of them, doesn’t mean I don’t love them because I do and I know that when their stories come to end (at least the stories I write down) I’ll miss them. It will be a bittersweet goodbye, but they’ll probably be happy about it because I won’t be torturing them anymore like some kind of crazed supervillain (muahahaha, I used to be an evil supervillain. True story, they called me Dr J and I had a partner called B. Never really kicked off though).

Now, before I run the risk of looking more insane than  already do I’m going to actually get on with some more writing, because Sophie finishes her exams tomorrow and she might read my new (hopefully final) draft and I haven’t finished it yet. Ciao for now folks.

~ by Jess Wiles on May 25, 2011.

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