Sunday, February 14, 2010

Do you get along with your characters?

If we were to spend any time with our characters in social activities, we'd make an interesting discovery. We are linked to each of them by a personal chemistry, just as we engage without thinking about it in chemistry relationships with our real-time friends and associates.


One individual I know and would hesitate to call a friend has the same effect on people as the famed individual from the Li'l Abner comic strip who was accompanied wherever he went by a black cloud. This person from real life has the ability to transform the most casual greeting into a litany of illnesses, aches, pains, and past tragedies, including deaths, divorce, rejected manuscripts. There are others whose company I am not swift to invite, because each in his or her own way produces a tingle of reaction I prefer to spend my time distanced from.

Friends and associates are more likely to be individuals who produce a single or combined sense involving such ingredients as trust, curiosity, intimacy, the comfort of shared experiences, support, humor, overlap of interest. While scarcely thinking about the process, I realize I more or less interview friends and associates just as they have in their own way interviewed me. Getting acquainted with students provides and provokes validation or surprise, I am frequently told, "I thought I knew all the quirks and variations among writers, but you stand all that on its end and bring out plain crazy."

It is worth the effort to make a few lists, starting with family members, then with individuals we see as associates or in professional circumstances, then as individuals whose company we seek for the mere chemistry involved. Each of these individuals is assessed in terms of our own perception of the degree and sophistication of the chemistry.

But now, you have a kind of lexicon or template for assigning feelings to the new characters who are after us for the literary equivalent of a green card by means of which they are able to remove themselves from the shadow land of imagination, then into a story, perhaps even a novel, citizenship in an entirely different landscape with entirely different possibilities for a decent life.

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