Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams. -- Peter S. Beagle
In dreams begins responsibility. -- W.B. Yeats
It's been a tricky week for me + the book. I'm always amazed at how changeable this pursuit is--some days, the book is so close, so very close, and other days, I wake up and think of everything but the story. I thought I'd have the hang of it by now, but it's a steep lesson to learn.
Some weeks, this story is so huge that I'm inside of it. Suddenly I'm writing history--these events must have happened, these characters are real people, they lived and breathed and fought and won. And I'm just trying to get their story right--but it's less about me and my decisions, and more about how it really was.
That's when the novel feels like it's gathering itself together like a storm, building on its own, and I'm just the kid in the back room trying to type fast enough.
I've had days where I've worked for so long, and the whole story is so strong, that I turn around because I can feel my main character standing behind me. Really.
I can stop a conversation dead by mentioning this, so I usually keep it under wraps. Everyone looks at me like I'm not at all what they thought--that I've turned spooky. "You'd better explain," someone said once, laughing despite a worried face. "I almost believed you." It's simple: when I've been straining every brain cell to get a character right, to picture exactly what she would do, to make sure every line of dialogue is what she would say and not what Jenn would say, then it suddenly feels like she's really there, supervising me.
He still didn't believe me, but that's okay--I don't think he wanted to.
When things are going that well, that strong, I forget that I'm not safe. That the story isn't perfectly secure, that I won't wake up every day with dialogue in my mouth and scenes ringing in my head.
Yesterday the story felt so fragile, one breath away from scattering into a thousand pieces.
That's when the characters become pieces of text, bits of font, scraps of paragraphs, and their voices are out of tune. Scenery is bare: a snatch of breeze and the faint line of a horizon. Everyone is wooden and stiff as they move--an entire cast with knee injuries! And I wonder: what on earth am I doing? We're frauds, every last one of us...
It's a fight every day, every single day. (Sometimes every hour.) And I have to come prepared, I have to know that just like anyone, my characters might not feel like talking. The trees wander off. The antagonist would rather fly a kite--he leaves his threats for another day. Who wants to be menacing all day long? And then my usually trusty heroine says nothing funny. And I'm the only one holding this strange family together.
Some people say I need to get out more. To stop working so hard. That my life must feel so quiet. I need to be around more people. I am always surprised--do you have any idea how loud that writing room gets? It's like five minutes before a kids' pageant--who is missing a costume, who doesn't have their lines, who is crying in the corner? And I have to be up for it, ready, have the script in my pocket and spare bobby pins in my bag, bandages in my pack.
I have to remember to come to my computer with my gameface on--or rather, my typeface. And my fingers limbered up. So I can catch every song my characters sing, and know the best way to bribe them when they're mute.