In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lives of Their Own

 Yesterday I held an author event at South Molton Library, not far from Barnstaple. South Molton's a small village, but the library is surprisingly large and very well laid out. Half a dozen people came to listen to me speak (the fools).

 I don't much like speaking in public, it makes me nervous. As I've said before, writers tend to be solitary types, who enjoy quiet hours sitting at a screen. To us, talking with six or seven people in a library is a bit too much like roistering. I like a good roister, mind you, but only when I can drink beer and talk nonsense. It's different when I have to talk sense.

 I'd like to say that the trouble is people who don't behave like characters in the books I write. Real people say odd things, they surprise me, whereas the characters go where I tell them to. The trouble is that they don't. My stories are forever being rewritten because Calesh (or Suchi, or Talac) comes to a point where he just wouldn't do what I want him to. I know the chap better by then, I've been telling his story for the past 80,000 words, and the blighter just would not do what the story needs him to do. I end up with him shaking his head at me with his arms folded, and I have to say Okay, Okay. I'll rewrite your back story, I'll bin four chapters and do them over, edit five more, and waste half the sodding work I've already done. Happy now?

 And he is. He goes cheerily down the new story path with his hat at a jaunty angle while I bang my head on the desk.

 But you know, when your characters do this, they're taking on lives of their own. They're not real, never can be, but they're close enough to fool me.. and so I guess they'll fool the reader too. We can believe they're real. And those are the good characters, the ones we root for and grieve with, and maybe share the triumph in the end. When the people in your book start saying Nope, not doing that, then you know you've written something genuine. Not a cutout figure with as much emotion as wet paper.

 So I try to be happy when I have to rewrite half the book, because I end up with a better story and truer characters in it. And that's pretty good.