Do you think that characters in books have lives that even their authors don’t know about?
Like maybe Elizabeth Bennet had a mild gambling problem that she tried to keep hidden from Jane Austen. Or Abel Magwitch is a wizard at needlepoint and never clued Dickens in. And was it just me or did Melanie Wilkes seem like someone who might have a bonsai tree collection? Just me? Fine.
Anyway, I’ve always liked this thought. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. All those supposedly fictional characters walking around, causing problems and changing plots. One of my favorite moments in the series is in Something Rotten when the other characters in Hamlet are trying to start a coup so that they will get the attention rather than the young prince. Who wouldn’t want to read “The Tragedy of the Very Witty and Not Remotely Boring Polonius, Father of the Noble Laertes, Who Avenges His Fair Sister, Ophelia, Driven Mad by the Callous, Murderous and Outrageously Disrespectful Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”? I mean, it just rolls off the tongue.
Occasionally when I’m writing I get a feeling of great power. I’m creating these characters, giving them life. Their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and quirks all come from me. I am mighty. Nothing can stop me.
I start planning world domination in the illustrious style of Pinky and the Brain.
Then, out of nowhere, I get this image of these individuals I’ve been writing about sitting around a table, laughing. They find my arrogance funny.
“She thinks she created us. Like we weren’t all just doing our things, waiting to let her know what was going on.”
“Seriously. You try to be nice, you try to wait until someone’s ready to know that you exist, and what happens?”
“She gets a god complex.”
“What a dinkus.”
It’s a humbling conversation and one that pulls me back from my power high to reality (well, my version of reality, at least). I take off my Master of the Universe crown and put down my Ruler of All that Prevails scepter. And I go back to writing, more clear-headed now that all the maniacal egotism has subsided. Thankful that the story people pulled me back from the brink of literary destruction.