I’m making the mistake of writing about writing, which means this post is going to be boring to the point of sheer unreadability for all except maybe two people. Nevertheless, I am forging ahead, due to the belief that those two people are total mensches and deserve blog posts written for their enjoyment.
I recently wrote the third book of my urban fantasy series, Random Acts of Sorcery. My husband, Wilson, is always my first proofreader/sanity checker because– in addition to being an all-around swell guy– he was reading urban fantasy books before I was, so he knows the territory. He suggested a few changes, some of which I made and some of which I didn’t.
Or rather, some of which I couldn’t.
He didn’t like a particular development; I understood his complaints, even agreed 99% with him, but making the change he suggested was simply not possible. For me, what had happened to these characters was real– what I had written in the draft was now “canonical,” as pompous as it is to use that word to refer to your own story. Making the change he suggested would feel strangely like writing a derivative fanfiction of my own work, since I know what “really” happened between these characters.
Now, how weird is that? If I’m writing the book, I’m effectively God of this universe, right? Canon should be whatever I say it is, period. If I write that Character A never goes anywhere without a monkey on her head, then by golly, Character A has a monkey on her head. Except, I would never write that, since I know deep down that Character A doesn’t really have a monkey on her head; in fact, she hates monkeys. Can’t stand them.
It feels as though the characters have some kind of independent existence outside of my decisions; at some point, I feel like I’m just reporting this story that was beamed into my brain from some other source, not determining its content. But this has to be some kind of delusion; there’s no dimension where these characters “really” exist. There’s no reason everyone in the book can’t have a monkey on their head if I wake up on the monkey-loving side of the bed that day. Yet, on some level, I continue to believe that the characters have some kind of autonomy, and my ability to influence them only goes so far. I can tweak their dialogue, maybe even temper the brashest of their decisions, but I can’t change what they do in the broadest sense.
Isn’t this some kind of mild mental illness, albeit a productive one? Wouldn’t it be healthier if I could somehow ditch this idea that the characters had a life of their own, and instead dictate everything that happens in my fictional universe? It would probably make for tighter writing, for one thing; seemingly autonomous characters don’t always play nicely with the conventions of plotting and pacing. But if I could somehow convince myself that my characters have no existence outside of my arbitrary whims as the writer, wouldn’t the story lose its proverbial spark? After all, if I don’t even believe in the reality of the story, why should the reader believe it?
I want to continue writing fiction, but I don’t want to accept my continuing descent into this world of fiction-powered madness if it can possibly be helped. Therefore, I choose to believe my characters actually DO exist in another universe, and I’m just gifted with the rare psychic sensitivity to other realms that most humans lack. That’s why I can’t change what my characters do, because they’re totally real; I’m just the only one who knows it.
“But that’s crazy!” you say. Maybe? Frankly, I’m going to be insane either way, so I may as well give myself the gift of extra-dimensional superpowers. It’s the least I can do.