Are your characters your own? (Writing Tip No. 5)

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

Are your characters your own? (Writing Tip No. 5)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Son of a bitch, Langston, how the hell should I know? My whole life has been about pursuing the ever-elusive literary peach. I think that in recent months I have actually crawled much closer to the answer than ever before. But that still leaves me wilting here, contemplating inspirations. I’ve been writing like a freshly born madman for weeks. Some of it has been solid but most of it has been, um, not. I figure that’s okay because it is better to have written and lost than to not have written at all. Can I share a secret with you?

Yesterday, as my fingers were tapping away at some nonsensical jargon, I happened upon a new character. He just popped up unawares, completely out of the blue. He said, “Oh hello, I am in your story now.” What could I do but welcome him with open arms? Sometimes, as writers, we really have no choice in the matter. At any rate, he seems to be a nice man. He is an artist. He’s not well known and I doubt he ever will be but he has passion and he has style and (let’s not hold this against him, please!) he is French.

His name is Gustav Plonchet and if you steal him from me I swear I will hunt you down and I will murder your entire hard drive while you are sleeping! But here is the funny thing… I know very little of the art world. Truth be told, I wish I knew much more. But as I was writing this scene and Gustav, an amateur painter on the rise, forced himself upon me from virtually out of nowhere (as far as I could ascertain), I let him introduce himself for a bit before something inside me said, “What kind of a name is this?” I knew that he was 100% a figment of my imagination but his moniker sounded real. I actually believed that such a man could exist. His name, to me, sounded as if he was familiar, as if I may have met him on the street 8 or 15 years prior. Naturally, I had to Google him.

No!!

Listen – This is wrong. The rest of this story is extremely coherent and circumstantial. I regret not the fact that I took some time to research my own imaginary character; what I do regret, however, is that I took the time to research him mid-flow. I tweeted about this recently when I was busy thinking unrelated thoughts: Writing is hard. Distractions are easy. Make like a hard-at-work poet and re-verse it.

In a nutshell, don’t get distracted! No matter what! This is such hard advice to follow. Look at me! I’m proof. I am as addicted to the internerd as the next person. In everyday life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But while you are writing, you should remain, as much as you possibly can, completely and utterly within yourself. Let your story and your characters be your guide. If, by some chance, you feel an irresistible urge to jump on the world wide whatever and go star gazing for nonsense, stow it away for some other day. It’s only going to lead you astray.

You understand.

What is the moral of the story? Here it is: Right smack in the middle of my scene, just after I had introduced this new character I called Gustav Plochet—I had given him a face and a height and a mustache and a few other idiosyncrasies—I decided to put down my pen (ie. minimize MS Word) and, just for shits and giggles, Google him. My train of thought was broken, the scene was broken, and I was taken out of it. In those regards, all was awry. HOWEVER… as it turns out, when I googled “Gustav Plonchet” the aliens in the machine asked me if I meant “Gustave Planche?” Ok, sure why not? So I clicked on that dude’s name and lo and effing behold… guess what? Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche was a literary and art critic in France during the early 19th century. Of course this is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to find out as much about this guy as I possibly can so I can inject part of him into my character. But as I’m doing this, as I’m learning about the real Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche, more and more time is going by and I’m starting to veer further and further away from whoever my own Gustav Plonchet was supposed to be! And the longer I am away from my story, the more I am learning about history—which is good! but not good for storytelling.

All good sense aside though, how cool is it that my Gustav is almost a real dude from like… history? Ha! Anyway, I thought that was pretty righteous. Who knows if, on some level, I knew that and my brain pulled it up as I was just type type typing away. Does it matter? I guess the point is that since all this happened, I have yet to go back to that scene. And that’s partially because I’m afraid that the real Gustave Planche may become my Gustav Plonchet. And is that ok? It’s kind of a mindfuck.

Long story short: save the internerd for the after party.

Write now. Write well. Write on.

-LW