Monday, October 24, 2016

A Farewell to My Characters

By: Natalia Brothers
My publisher just sent me a photo of my ARCs. I no longer must call what I have written “a story,” “a manuscript,” “a novel”—the words I used in my queries and pitches. Now I can call it a book. But there’s something else in the fusion of delight and excitement I bask in as I await an announcement of the release date. The sentiment is bitter-sweet, reminiscent to a stroll through a garden on a bright September day. Chrysanthemums are blooming, the dew sparkles on the grass plumes after the night’s storm, and every leaf and berry looks beautiful and vibrant; but the scent of autumn fills the air and you know the summer is over.

So, what causes all this brooding when I’m only weeks away from fulfilling my ambition and getting published?

It took many drafts before the manuscript turned into the story I envisioned, the tale I aspired to tell. The cast—the characters—resided in my head throughout the process, and I had grown accustomed to thinking of my fictional crew as if they were real people. Her face and smile, his voice and mannerism, the food they liked, the melodies they hummed…Their fears, joys, heartbreaks, victories…I knew more about them than I know about some of my friends.

Every detail popped into my mind whenever I sat down to write a scene. My characters accompanied me on long mountain hikes, my brainstorming time. The heroine awakened me at three in the morning:

“Hey, this is what I’d like to do. Is it very bad?”

Whoa. Would she dare?

She always did.

I was taught that since our characters exist entirely in our imagination, they possess no will of their own, their actions are fully under our control, and they will do whatever we picture them doing. It seems this conception is only partially true. Yes, I had the power to create these personalities. But once I had my cast, all I had to do was devote my creativity to conceiving the wickedest fight-or-flight, sink-or-swim, life-or-death scenarios. Day after day for several years, I let my characters wrangle with the pressures of the unfolding plot, while I chronicled their struggle.

Day after day. For several years.

Then, all of a sudden, it was over. The last line written, the last revision finished. The end.

How happy I was last summer when the contest edits called for changes in a couple of scenes. I could immerse myself in the plot again. Experience the characters’ emotional states. The situation. The setting.

Speaking of the setting…I’ll miss it too. A sequel will take place somewhere else, and it’s still in a world-building stage. The new locale is more of an impression, a fluid vision, a mirage in the process of shaping up into a major element of the story. The cast is a bunch of strangers I’m getting to know. The new heroine tries my patience. I gave the role to a secondary character from the original novel, thinking it would be easier if I at least knew someone in the new crew. But it didn’t help; it’s as if she’s not used to being the focus of my attention and refuses to be as proactive as her predecessor.

Of course, the logical explanation is that I, a hopeless pantser, shouldn’t have tried to plot that sequel. I don’t enjoy writing a story when I know what’s going to happen. I crave my characters’ spontaneous dialogues and actions. I want a heroine who won’t hesitate waking me up in the middle of the night.

So maybe I’ll tear up the sequel’s outline and start from the beginning.

About the Author:  Born in Moscow, Natalia grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Natalia realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if, a writer’s unrelenting muse, took hold of her. Two of her passions define her being. Natalia is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.