Character Mutiny

    I’m working on a new short story and in it, my main character has to visit a big city, a place she’s never been before. As I’m writing, I realize that either she’s got to be really lucky and find her destination on her own, really unlucky and something bad/disruptive happens, or she can plan ahead a little bit and try to get a guide to help her in the city.

I took the last option and as I imagined who would be going into the city, I saw an old woman pulling a cart. I had Lys, my main character, begin to talk with the woman, as a precursor to asking for help in the city. I named the woman Elba, and damned if this woman didn’t almost take over the story!

As I’m writing the scene, I can hear Elba’s voice so clearly and it took me a while to figure out that I was borrowing an acquaintance’s voice, mannerisms and even her opinions and giving them to this character. It was great! Except that I really just wanted like a paragraph’s worth of interaction so that Lys, my hero, would get where she needed to go in the city in a safe & logical way.

Instead I have (in this first draft) about three pages of dialog between the two of them. In a short story, that’s like she’s a main character! And honestly, I do wonder if Elba might show back up in the story — an old woman pulling a cart mutinied and now she’s wandering around my consciousness and I have no idea what she might do!

Maybe it’s my fault for giving her a name, maybe that was just the spark she needed to become a person instead of a device. I’ve had that happen a few times recently where I just needed a quick interaction between my character and the world — simple things like asking directions or buying gas and Bam! I discover, just as in real life, these people have full lives of their own. They deserve their own short story, dammit. Knowing Elba as I do, I think she might just get one!

Beth

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