Characters’ Hauntings


I’m one of those writers who believes that her characters are alive in a parallel Universe, living out different possibilities in exponentially larger options than my limited human mind can invent.

But on some level I also know that I am my character’s god and that some of them are very much aware of me, seeking me out, demanding their fair share of happiness, complaining and bewailing when I give them too much grief.

Some characters are more arrogant, especially if they’ve already had an existence in a previous story or myth.  I’m speaking specifically of Gilgamesh, whom I’ve resurrected from the shelves of the libraries of pundits and literati and retraining to bring back to the masses.  But being the diva that he is, he thinks he owns me.  He always shows up late for practice, bosses the other characters around, pushes them off stage, steals their lines, and then disappears into his dressing room to have sex with one of his many lovers, while the rest of us wait, keeping his Sturbucks warm.

Occasionally, though, he confesses he’s afraid he might not fit the performance. And I beg him not to drop me as his agent: I’ll give him more lines.  I’ll speed up the production.  I’ll double the budget.  Whatever it takes.   He pretends to abandon me for months at a time, but in the end he comes back to me. Why? Well, I suspect he knows no one will love him quite as wholly; no one will do him as much justice as me.  He’s the Brittany Spears of the situation, burned out, in and out of rehab, verging on has been, but still bursting with too much talent to give up.

Sometimes, he visits me during my dreams.  Even then, I may find that I have a date with him, and that he’s stood me up in favor of a new fling.  He sends his son instead, Amargi, who’s been a champ for the length of this story writing, who doesn’t mind taking a beating, never misses a practice, and allows me to direct him in every situation, plausible or not.  I see Amargi in my dream more clearly then I ever have while I write him: he’s a beautiful boy, around fourteen years of age, an old soul, with dark, shining eyes and hair, and a resignation at the antics of his diva father that is as heartbreaking as it is seductive.  He is the one who informs me Gilgamesh will not be coming up for this particular date.  I’m disappointed, but Amargi makes up for it with his own light, and the wisdom he imparts about dealing with his complicated father.

Another time, Gilgamesh comes to me as I’m about to fall asleep. He’s not alone. He seldom is.  This time, he’s with his love interest, and he seems to understand that his connection to her, as well as his personal allure, are both aspects of my wishful thinking.  Still, as he rearranges his lover in his arms, I feel him breathing.  The weight of his body is so real that it jolts me into wakefulness. I know him.  I know him like I know my husband, like I know my friends, my co-workers, my relatives.  He is recognizable to me in the same way a familiar person is recognizable: through a collection of psychic imprints put together of scents, gestures, appropriation of space, and soundbites.  As I turn over on the bed, he enters my mind, and lets me know he knows he has possessed me as clearly and as certainly as I’ve possessed him.  He goes through the motion with the love interest in the story, but he’s too smart not to know that the love interest is me.

Hush. My husband may be reading this.

At times, I find him on the page, through dialog. I want him to talk for only half a paragraph, spew his thing, and move on to the next plot point. But he refuses. He has something to say.  He goes on for nearly three pages, my fingers barely keeping up at the flow ofhis words, and he says things that shatter my understanding of the world.  His logic is flawless, intricate, subtle.  I pull away from the page and rush to my writing buddy, trying to explain what Gilgamesh just told me, and I find that I can’t. When Gilgamesh wrote his words, I could understand his pattern of thinking. Now that I’m alone again, I can only put his logic together in a jumble of approximations that aren’t nearly as elegant, not nearly as precise.

Can a character be more intelligent then his writer? My friend Tina Whittle, who writes mysteries, emphatically thinks so.  She’s often outsmarted by her detective characters, who impatiently have to explain to her why her plot won’t work, why she has to start over and close the gaps.

Writing is a mysterious practice, but one of the things I love the most is discovering these people.  Where do they come from? Why did they choose me? I’m grateful.  I’m honored.  Please keep coming.

Writing and About

4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. This is absolutely beautiful and I can’t agree more. I have this same sort of experience on a daily basis (though my characters are more likely to come sauntering in while I’m trying to pay attention in an important meeting than when I’m about to fall asleep and can actually devote my full attention to them). I’ve always sort of felt like more of a biographer than a fiction writer – my subjects just happen to not be living so much in the traditional sense. But the task is still the same; somehow write every single aspect and experience of people who already have 30 or 40 years on me and keep adding new stories, new lives, new THINGS. It’s so frustrating and wonderful and humbling.

    • Isn’t it wonderful? It’s the reason to keep writing. There are few enough rewards and so much work, but it’s that connection to these people that makes it all so fascinating. Thanks for posting.

  2. You are not alone. Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, believed that the character was looking over his shoulder and would kill him if he didn’t write The Phoenix in the Sword, the first story in which he ever appeared.

%d bloggers like this: