Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Head Space

One of the things I find interesting (and a little scary) about writing is the way worlds and characters can take over one’s mental space. For several years now, the characters of my post-peak oil fiction have so dominated my consciousness that I’ve had a hard time moving on to new projects. Oh, I’ve been able to turn out a bit of unrelated flash fiction, but my attempts at anything longer came to nothing. My other characters were too dominant, their world too easy to slip into and get lost in. Every time I tried to move on, my old characters would pester me, tug at my sleeve and whisper in my ear, telling me new stories and begging me to stay just a little longer.

But finally I got a new idea that was compelling enough to stick with and I began work on a new novel. I’ve struggled with it, not knowing this new world very well and not able to “hear” my characters. After so many years with Amalia, Will, Diana, and their friends, I was used to being able to get answers to my questions with ease. Not so with my new characters! I was almost to 30K words before the first of my new characters started opening up to me. To my surprise, it was one of my male characters. I had expected my female characters to be more accessible, but they were more cautious and still remain a little wary of me. They've probably heard the rumors of how I like to torture my imaginary friends!

But now as I come upon the 35K mark, I’m reaching a place where getting information isn’t such a struggle. When I ask what happens next or when I request a bit of backstory so I can understand some future action, most of my new characters tell me. Some go on at great length, not willing to shut up even when I point out that I have important spreadsheets to work on or an email to answer. For the last two days they’ve taken over my head space every time I’ve quit thinking about the needful things of daily life like work, food, and not getting run over by a bus as I cross the street. They’ve quietly taken over in the way my old “family” used to do.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with my old characters, only that I’m finally achieving the distance from them that I feel every writer needs at some point. It also means I’m finally on a roll with my new WIP. The nightly writing sessions are less of a struggle. I’m no longer forcing myself to write something, anything, just to make a minimum word count for the evening. My characters now spend all day filling my head with stories of past and future adventures, their thoughts, hopes and dreams. My nightly word counts are getting longer and the writing flows more easily.

I’m not out of the woods yet. Characters can be touchy creatures and they could clam up on me at any moment. I might get bogged down in a plot conundrum and the story could suck when it’s all over. But it’s a relief to have pushed past the most critical barrier to find that yes, I can make new characters that are just as real in my mind as the old ones. I can enjoy the ride as a new group of imaginary friends introduce me to their screwed-up world.

I’m finally having fun on my new journey and it looks like it’s going to be a fine adventure, indeed!

So who is occupying your head space today? Old friends or new? Are they real, and are they trying to take over? Will you let them?


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Bunnygirl, on getting to that wonderful tipping point with your new characters!

I know well what you're talking about, re: characters taking over your mental space.

Ernest and Romilly from Occam's Razors were that way with me. It was very hard for me to move on to a new story.

Now, two rough drafts of two new stories later, I'm having great fun with the characters from my now-WIP: my characters have opened up; they're telling me their hopes and dreams, what they did ten years ago, what they want to do ten years from now; I'm seeing offshoots of new stories from the main story comprising (possibly) separate novels.

But yes, in my experience, too: it takes time and patience to get new characters to open up, especially after you've been so connected to one group of characters for a long time.

I look forward to hearing more about your WIP -- I'm excited for you, and it sounds like things are rocking and rolling! :)

Alix said...

Glad things are going well for you with your new project. Also glad you haven't done with your old characters yet :)

As characters from books I've read lurk round in my head I hate to think what would happen if I actually invented some myself. All other activity might stop!

Hope all keeps going well.

Bernita said...

That's exactly what it's like. You've described the process well.
Sometimes they are secrerive.

ChristineEldin said...

I know this feeling, but my stories are shorter so the cycle time is much shorter.
I'm four chapters into a project I really like. I've finally switched mental gears.
Great post!

Alice Audrey said...

You really have spent a lot of time - and words - in Diana's world. I can see how it would take over. But when you moved on, you really moved on.