I’m real, they’re not – I think.
“Damn him!” I slam the table so hard my hand hurts. “How can he do that? Bloody idiot of a man!” I go on, muttering a number of creative expletives before returning to my editing.
“You wrote that,” my husband protests mildly from his side of the table. “And will you stop whacking at the table like that? I’m trying to work here.”
“Still; he needs someone to shake some sense into him,” I say.
“Well then do that; you’re the author, no?” My husband gives me an amused look.
“It’s not that simple,” I tell him.
From his place in my manuscript, Matthew grins up at me, quite unrepentant. I wag my finger at him. I might not be able to change this particular scene, (and I must admit I love it when he goes a bit brutish now and then. I’m not entirely sure Alex agrees with me – at least not at present. She glares at Matthew as if considering just what part of his anatomy she intends to run through with a red hot needle) but beware, Matthew Graham. I do hold the quill here, and life in the seventeenth century can be very, very tough. Like how about doing a stint in gaol, hey? Or maybe end up at the pillory?
“You wouldn’t,” Matthew says, that cheeky grin wiped off his face.
“Try me,” I threaten, before running a bright red line through an excessive comma.
It’s actually quite strange, this writing thing. In general,I start out with a couple of very graphic scenes in my head, I have a notion of where the story is set, who my protagonists are and roughly how things will end. Okay, so I’m working on a series, which makes the protagonist part relatively easy (no matter that both Matthew and Alex are obstinate to a fault, I still love them to bits. Mostly.) However, as the story progresses, my leading man and woman have developed somewhat differently from what I originally expected them to do. Matthew, f.ex, is a devout man for whom God is a constant presence in his life. That wasn’t how he first popped into my head, let me tell you. And as to Alex, I am quite amazed by how fiercely and protectively she loves this man of hers (He basks in it – all men bask in their woman’s love) and how generously she forgives him some of his transgressions. If it were me… I slam the table yet again, telling Matthew in no uncertain terms that he can be quite the cad at times. He winks, waves at me and saunters off to mend his fences with Alex.
As a consequence of my character’s unexpected addition of new virtues and vices, I quite often find myself in a quandary. That original scene, so visual, so forceful, so … heck, so perfect, has to be rewritten – or scrapped – as it no longer rings true. Aagh! Hair-tearing time, let me tell you.
“Well I told you it wouldn’t work,” Alex says from where she’s perched on a dry stone wall.
“It did work; until you changed,” I bite back.
“I haven’t changed,” she laughs, “I’ve become consistent, and credible, and well rounded.”
She has a point. Characters tend to spring to life as caricatures, far too much black and white, way too few shades of grey. And they come with question marks; do they like apples? Are they allergic to wool (most unfortunate if you’re living in the seventeenth century), can they read, did they have a good relationship with their parents, can they swim, do they bray like donkeys when they laugh (Nope. Phew…) etc. etc. etc.
So maybe it’s no wonder the plot needs to be rewritten. Picture f.ex that the original story line calls for a scene in an apple orchard. The trees are heavy with fruit, it’s an early September morning when glittering dew decorated the grass like a multitude of miniature diamonds, and here they come, the protagonists. He rises on his toes, picks a picture perfect apple and polishes it on his shirt sleeve before extending it to her.
“I hate apples,” she says. WHAT??? Cut, cut.
“You love apples,” I hiss.
“No I don’t. They give me a stomach ache.” She scowls. “And how would you know what I like?”
“How? Well maybe because I invented you in the first place!”
She gives me a sly grin. “You think you did. But maybe it’s the other way round, maybe I’m using YOU to tell my story, not you using ME to tell yours.” Umm. This leads to some moments of rather severe existential angst before I conclude I’m the one who exists. Well, I think I am, even if I keep on hearing my favourite Spanish verse ringing in my head, the one about life being nothing but a dream.
Anyway; conclusion of the above is that the apple orchard scene, no matter the vibrancy of the descriptions, has to go. I’m fortunate in that it isn’t a pivotal scene – not this time. And all in all, my main characters tend to collaborate with my plot line more than they obstruct it – which just goes to prove that it was me inventing them and not the other way around, right? Right? From the depth of my manuscript comes a peal of teasing laughter and I hear Alex softly declaiming:
“¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño;
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.”
Damn! I shouldn’t have given her a Spanish mother!
P.S. The verse above is from La Vida es Sueño by Calderón de la Barca