[This blog post was originally published on my old blogspot on February 26th, 2021. I no longer use blogspot, but some of the content there is still fun to read and I feel relevant to my current writing journey. It has been somewhat modified but largely remains the same. Please enjoy.]
Characters Fight Back
When I listen to other writers discuss writing, specifically the creation of characters and how they shape their personal plots, I’ve come across a very prevalent mindset. Namely, that characters talk.
Yup. Numerous writers, from the successful and famous doing a televised interview to the obscure blogger that I swap creative ideas with, claim this. They say that their characters talk to them. That they argue. That they won’t do what they’re told. That they have grown personalities so potent they have an audible voice inside the author’s head.
And whenever I encounter this mindset, I feel a little left out. But maybe more weirded out. Because it doesn’t happen to me. My characters do not “speak” to me. Why is it that I feel like *I’m* the crazy one when I say that?
Nope. I made them up. They never talk. They never argue. They stay totally quiet when I conjure them in my brain and move them like the little fictional puppets that they are.
Errmmm… usually. There was one exception.
The Mermaid Talked
Don’t you just love sifting through old files and finding things you’d completely (maybe willfully) forgotten about?
While hunting for old cover letters to reference, I stumbled on a file called GET AWAY FROM THE WATERv3.
(GET AWAY FROM THE WATER being the short story that won me the award I’m so obnoxiously proud of. It’s published in the Spring 2016 issue of eleven40seven and it’s on page 54 of this PDF. Go forth. Read. Enjoy. Be slightly horrified.)
“Ah!” I said to myself. “I appear to be missing the raw file on my current computer. I will copy and paste that over on Illustrious Superior Laptop now.”
Click, drag, open, ding, and… *SUDDEN RECOGNITION AND HORROR*
“Oh. Yeah. That was a thing that happened.”
That thing that happened being that I wrote a new version of GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, changing one key detail in the body of the story and tacking on a 366 word alternate ending.
Because the mermaid spoke to me. Yeah. And she was LIVID.
And listen y’all… the mermaid never had a name. She had one line. Her job was to rescue Miriam, speak her wonderous title-dropping one-line, and DIE.
To Be Fair, I Was Slightly Crazy
I’ve talked some about my delusions and psychotic breaks with reality. Long story short, I’ve suffered four major psychosis episodes. This specific incident happened a little after my second major psychotic break. When the loopy chemicals were going strong, I guess.
She didn’t use words. She was not an audible voice. But it was her.
It happened over the course of a few days. My head was puzzling over all the images and scenarios in that psychotic break, trying to make sense of them, and she emerged.
Waves of loss, confusion, and hopelessness passed over me. Her potent sense of utter betrayal. This stupid song played on repeat in my head, and I knew she was singing it. She was angry with me. I’d destroyed her. She felt promised to a happy ending. Entitled, to a happy ending.
And, feeling more than a little terrified, I opened up GET AWAY FROM THE WATER (which I hadn’t touched since it had been published) and wrote an alternate ending.
Changing the Story
In Fiction Writing Workshop class where baby-college-Ally (isn’t she cuuuuute?) first wrote GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, my instructor said, “Hey! You should give Aaron a gun because that’s a small child with a weapon and it adds more drama and tension to that scene where Miriam’s driving to the beach.”
And I was like, “Uhhh… okay we could use some drama and tension. But I’m not giving a small child a gun. What would even be the point of that? Don’t you have to set off a gun you bring into a story?” But my instructor was so enthusiastic and baby-college-Ally wanted to impress the published author, so I gave the kid a big knife.
The first thing I did after the mermaid spoke to me? Change one key detail. Give the kid a gun.
The next thing I did? Added 366 words. Miriam charges back to the sea and shoots the Leviathan in the eye. Gun goes off. (Are you proud, Chekhov?) And the mermaid gets to live.
There’s even a lovely note at the end of the document where I talk back to the mermaid (pictured above): “Are you happy now? I’ll write you a full novel one day. Today you’re just a short story, but know you’re not finished yet. If I die before I complete you, know that you found help and you survived. You lived happily ever after. You met a great guy and had lots of adorable mer-babies.”
She hasn’t spoken since.
To be fair, no character of mine has “spoken” since. Or before. And I was a little delusional when this incident happened, so I would like to confirm something for the rest of you authors who claim your characters “speak.”
You are, in fact, crazy. Thank you.
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Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.
🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄