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Characters

When I’m reading a book, no matter the writer or the subject, characters take on their own lives. They become mythical, pixie-like friends that step into my life for a couple weeks, change everything I think I know about the world, and vanish without a trace, never to be seen or heard from outside of the few wonderful memories I can’t help but look back on with a fond sigh.

Now, when I’m writing a book on the other hand, while everything I just said above is so critically and horribly true, characters really become something else entirely. I hesitate to call them children; I feel they’re more like potential lovers of whom I get to know the innermost thoughts—and when I’m done with them, there’s a noticeable gap, the place where I’d kept them so long an aching emptiness filled with a longing to see them again, to write them again. And every time I turn a story idea over afterward, part of me hopes to explore those characters further. It becomes akin to searching for a lost love on Facebook: I wonder what they’re up to nowadays, what they look like, if they’re in a relationship, if they’re happy, if they still work at that job.

There’re three books I’m working on right now. You know all of them simply as numbers, and won’t know much more than that for some time—but me, I’m neck-deep in them right now, gunning ahead, fighting my way through and tapping into the helpful advice of every mysterious character I happen to cross on the way. Two of these stories share a few characters, and it’s nice to see their evolution, find where they’ve gone—even if it’s frightening to see how far they’ve changed between one and the other. This boy, he’s no longer a wanderlust hoping for love. He’s hardened. He’s seen and experienced things no person should. This woman over here, she’s hit a brick wall with no way to climb over on her own. And I’m the only one who can decide if she gets a helping hand or not. Or so I tell myself.

In my books, I’ve killed many characters and let them kill in return. In life, I’ve ended many friendships or simply let them run their course. Some of both of these, though, they’re worth fighting for. This character, I might want to stick around. This friendship, I think I want it to last. But, no matter what I do, sometimes—well, I might think something is going to go one way, make grand predictions of it, when suddenly—shit, what was that? Things take a different course, one I never could’ve planned for.

But should I fix it? Explore it?

What is this?

Do I avoid it altogether? That’s the real question here. I may think I’m in control of these books, but it’s probably the exact opposite that’s true. I could be manipulating some character, but this character has been playing its own strings, building toward this natural conclusion. To change it, it’d be a disgrace. It’d be wrong. But I want to see more, need to see what comes next. I’ve become a viewer of my own soap opera, desperate at times to change the end, to grab a character by the shoulder and guide them to safety or simply shove them forward into this pit of despair and danger, but I’m not always there. I can’t be everywhere at once, no matter how hard I try.

See, characters, I guess they really are like friends in a way: completely out of my control, affecting my life more than I could possibly imagine. At least with characters, I can say they’re a bit under my thumb. But man, are they squiggly.

Sanity’s Flaw, the first novel in "The Procyk Trilogy," is now available.

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