Dear Mr. and Mrs. David:
Heidi is a bright child, imaginative and enthusiastic. She’s read every story in the reading corner, some of them twice. It’s our understanding she’s not a big fan of Fun With Dick And Jane as she has concerns about its lack of multiculturalism. Additionally, Heidi has some doubts about the intellect of Jane, funny funny Jane, and wonders if the ASPCA shouldn’t be alerted to the family’s gross negligence of their dog, Spot. Also, in his most recent episode, “Look,” said Dick. “See it go. See it go up.” Heidi feels the boy has developed a rather unnatural obsession with things that go up. One that is likely to put Dick in therapy for the better part of his adulthood.
Be that as it may, we here at Fox Meadow Elementary find Heidi a pleasure to teach. We always enjoy watching her play House with the other kindergarteners. Recently however, we’ve noticed a trend in her behavior that we wish to bring to your attention.
Whenever it’s time to play house, Heidi is always the first to come up with a story, one that generally involves her as the mother while the other students are assigned lesser roles. Heidi likes to be the woman-in-charge and is very adept at telling the other children what to do. We’ve tried suggesting she be the visiting Aunt for the day, but somehow the story still ends up revolving around her.
We don’t wish to alarm you, but in our experience this behavior is likely to result in one of two things. Either she will be a dictator hell-bent on world domination or, she will become a writer in order to control all aspects of the characters that inhabit her brain.
Don’t be dismayed; I hear taking up golf in one’s golden years can be significant relief from the inadequacies of one’s children.
The Principal and Staff at Fox Meadow Elementary
This slightly exaggerated version of my report card from kindergarten tells us a number of things. First, it’s possible I may have emulated Darla from The Little Rascals as a child. Second, I might have also been a bit of a bossypants. (That’s Ms. Bossypants to you, incidentally.) So how did my time directing and starring in Fox Meadow’s internationally acclaimed version of House effect me? I’m stuck believing I can control these characters I’ve created. I am in charge. After all, Darla merely winked at Alfalfa and he was under her spell. Of course my creations do what I want them to do, don’t they?
Ay, there’s the rub, as Willy Shakespeare would put it.
Recently, while working on a story you haven’t seen yet, I discovered my main character has a potty mouth. I love words, and although I’ve been known to toss out a few expletives in my time, I don’t generally create characters that curse a lot. This guy however, has issues. He’s well read mind you, but tortured. His name is Darryl, but don’t bother saying hello, he won’t respond. I tried to suggest to him that there were other ways he might express himself. Suffice it to say, he told me to go f*ck myself and that was the end of that.
Darryl’s cursing isn’t a false affectation. He’s always struggling for control over an unusual problem in his life and never succeeding. At the moment when the story starts his frustration is at an all time high. But the only reason I know all that is because I’m willing to investigate inside his head.
Creating characters can be great fun, but it can also be truly painful. It’s not just about what I do to them, it’s also about a willingness to cross the divide into their pain, confusion, suffering and happiness. It’s challenging to climb inside a character’s skin and feel what they feel, but necessary. Yes, I am the writer; I am in charge, but only to a certain degree. Once I take the risk to experience a character’s emotions, I discover details I didn’t know were there in the first place. For me, if I don’t feel something, my reader probably won’t either.
And that ain’t no bullsh*t.
Have you written willful characters like this? Do you dig deep into the moods of your creations, or shy away when things get messy? I’d love to hear about it.
Incidentally, I just posted a funny YouTube video of good ol’ Darla in action on my Facebook Fan page. (Did you know I have one of those?) So if you’d like to become a fan please click here and hit the like button. Darla’s rendition of “I’ll Never Say Never” is very entertaining.