Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Falling in love

with your characters, that is. Has that happened to you? That happened to me with this last story I wrote, and it was a problem of sorts.

I'd struggled with this story from the very beginning. I had an idea, inspired by a trip to an art museum. There is an exhibit of women artists in their permanent collection and some of the works especially moved me. My mother was an artist, albeit a frustrated one (long story not-for-here), and so I've always been drawn to stories (and movies) about artists. One of my characters is an artist.

I started the story, but then was interrupted by about 36 hours when I couldn't work on it at all. When I came back to it, I found that my characters started becoming more than I'd intended. As I wrote, I started to get lost in them. And I found myself falling in love. Which I don't do easily, in real life or on the page. I tend to be a bit cynical and untrusting, as well as quite insecure.

Now, from talking with other writers, having your characters move in their own direction is not all that uncommon. And this wouldn't have been a problem, except I had a deadline to meet, and they just weren't cooperating! So I found myself very disappointed with my story. In fact I almost chucked it yesterday morning as I tried to finish it. Because my characters did not want to be finished.

But thank eros for that deadline, because I'd promised Shanna that I would get a story to her, and so my not-wanting-to-let-someone-down forced me to commit myself to submitting SOMETHING. But I wasn't all too happy with this something (see "insecure" above). So I sent the story to Emerald to read over, and she made such a wonderful comment about my characters, that I squeezed past my insecurity to hit send and get my submission in before the deadline.

Afterwards, I sent the story to my husband to read. He's a professional editor, and you'd think I'd want him to have a look before I sent my story, but that would make sense, wouldn't it? No, because of my insecurity (yeah, that again), his comments can send me over the deep end. I have a story that I wrote a few years back and gave him to edit and I've yet to be able to go in and make revisions without feeling like the whole piece is a big pile of crap and shouldn't be inflicted on anyone.

When he gave me some feedback (when I got home from a poetry event I'd gone to in the evening), I found myself feeling very defensive. He'd wanted more, and well, I had too. But my characters weren't having it. He also had some problems with some tense changes and while I was tempted to pull it up on my screen and having him point out "problems," I realized I'd already submitted it and so it was out of my hands for  now. A couple of times during the "conversation" I was on the verge of tears. I get pretty emotionally invested in my writing.

It's not that I want undeserved praise, it's just that sometimes I feel like what people are telling me is "do it differently - do it my way" and even if I think they're right, the stubborn little writer in me gets to feet-stomping. no no no!

But my husband also complimented my characters. And I realized something. The reason I'd fallen in love with them was because they were "real" in the sense that they had that whatever-it-is that makes you love a character. And that the reason I had such a hell of a time finishing the story, was because I didn't want to leave them. Didn't want to say goodbye. But you know what? I don't have to.


Jo said...

Well, exactly. Learning to process criticism is an artform in itself, I think. Certainly a process.

The thing is, though, that being helped sharpen and refine, and fix and perfect is an act of love in itself, perhaps (which is maybe why I love editing). Let me do this for you, let me smooth this for you, let me help you shine. You know?

So it can be great to learn how to use that, and accept it. I'm glad you have Emerald, that's great. I'm pathetically grateful to have Danielle and Nikki to throw my first drafts at and collapse on the floor and say, help me, fix it for me, tell me what to dooooo!

It's exciting you get to go back and do Part 2 with your characters now. I still haven't met that deadline and I'm still hoping to... yet... here I am... must go do something productive before it gets any later.

Craig Sorensen said...

That song brings back such memories!

Yes, I've fallen in love with characters who won't play nice with me, and yes, that has stood in the way of me finishing something I thought was done or nearly done.

It can be hard to let go...

All I can say is, keep enjoying that writing, keep fighting off those doubts...

Emerald said...

I loved your story, Robin, and I'm so glad I got a chance to read it. It struck me simply as exquisite.

Also, yes, I have fallen in love with my characters before....


P.S. Forgot to say, congratulations on finishing it! Deadlines have served that exact purpose for me before too (frequently, in fact). I'm so glad you completed and submitted it.

Erobintica said...

Thanks everyone. So funny that a story that I struggled so with is turning out to be so important to me.