What Your Characters Do When You’re Not Looking

October 24, 2012
By Jules

Way back in the mid-90s, Mazy introduced herself with the following line: There’s more than one way to be dead without dying and Mazy had tried them all. From there, she grew into the melancholy protagonist of a poorly-penned anti-love story. I bid Mazy adieu in 1997 when I shredded the original story. Trust me when I say that it was the kindest thing to do for every character concerned.

A year later, Mazy showed up again, sulking around my living room while I was brainstorming characters for another story. I had in mind an ensemble of six and I swear she glared at me until I agreed to add her to the mix. But you give a character an inch …

I worked on the novel off and on for six years and eventually abandoned it after college. My characters had never quite connected and in retrospect I didn't give them much of anything to do. The thing about those characters who get under your skin is that they can outgrow the little boxes you've assigned them to. Instead of sitting silently in the filing cabinet when you’re not around, they go about their business just like anyone else; running errands, having casual conversations, exploring new interests and old obsessions. And in Mazy's case, visiting favorite bartenders in alley-way pubs behind overly-hyped-but-still-cool San Francisco bookstores.

Hardcore bondage flicks were two for one at Big Al’s. A bright pink, lip-shaped sign in the window said so. Two boys leaned against the wall beneath the sign, passing a hand-rolled cigarette back and forth. Mazy sat on the bus bench, across the street, stabbing splintered chopsticks into a half-empty carton of chow mein. She watched the boys wait, sensing their impatience, like predators or prey.

Jude’s books, which she’d come all the way across town to pick up, sat beside her on the bench in a canvas grocery bag and the camera bag, still strapped across her chest, rested on the bench as well, relieving the weight that had left an almost permanent indentation in her shoulder.

She picked the last slices of pork and lifted a final snaking bite of noodles to her mouth. As she chewed, she tucked the chopsticks into the carton and closed it around them. Across the street, a middle-aged man with a pea colored suit had stopped to talk to the young hustlers. She looked away, swept the bag of books up off the bench and headed towards the alley behind the bookstore.

And even though I didn’t give my author’s blessing for this little trip of hers, I know she’s headed for Vesuvio where Demetria will pour two shots of Grey Goose into her Bloody Mary. And I know she’s hoping, that she’ll see Trace, whose body, in the last months has become dense with words, and that she’ll figure out a way to ask if she can photograph him.

When Mazy crawls out of the “Abandoned Fiction” box in the garage and goes on these little jaunts, I've half a mind to follow along, creator chasing emancipated creation, and see if she'd like to chat about the meaning of literary license.

Now it's your turn to tattle on your out-of-the-box creations. What do YOUR characters do when you're not looking?


    Tags: characters, fiction, inspiration, process

    3 Responses to What Your Characters Do When You’re Not Looking

    1. October 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      What a fabulous post. I think I'd like to meet Mazy, although maybe not in a dark alley. I'm fairly new to this whole fiction writing thing, but I'm already finding that a few of my flash fiction characters are wandering around plotting revenge, visiting the wrong times and places, and generally demanding more space of their own. Isn't it fun?!

    2. Bullish
      October 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      I have always <3ed Mazy!! Love how you showcased her here – I'm sure she's busting out of her box and thumbing her nose at the rest of them, happy to have stolen the thunder once again!! xoxo

    3. lisashambrook
      October 25, 2012 at 3:20 am

      Yup, I've got a couple that don't fit anywhere, but they regularly jump up and ask if there's anything they can do…one day I'll aquiesce and they'll join the fully fledged brigade!

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