Confusing Characters With Real Life
I begin writing by mentally picturing my characters and then imagining how they would accomplish or react to something. The goal is to create a story that the reader finds realistic and exciting.
How do I get into this character? First, I place my reality aside and determine what this character is like. Then I picture this character reacting to their environment. So, I am pretending to be somebody else and think as they would think. Then I create (outline and write) dialog, scenes, and issues.
This imagined person is difficult to conceive of for many reasons. The main one is that my boring life is far different from my character, and thus, we do not have much in common. Have I flown on a rocket ship or murdered somebody? Nope. But I have an imagination that allows me to pretend to be anything or anyone. How about a female lumberjack? That’s a giant leap from my present life but achievable. I would begin by using my knowledge of women and cutting wood. The results will never be perfect, but with some effort, readers will believe such a person (character) could exist.
I like to write close to my reality so that the story and characters are as realistic as possible. So it is challenging to picture a character far outside of my domain. A comic book superhero, a soldier in jungle combat, a child fighting against a drugged-out parent, or a homeless man trying to survive in China? A bridge too far. (But I wrote about aliens. Hmm.)
Does this mean I genuinely believe I am a female lumberjack during the writing process? I apply maximum effort to get as close as possible to that image. This mindset allows me to craft what a female lumberjack would do and say. (Or at least my baffling mind would find her believable.)
Is imagining a female lumberjack creepy, immoral, or illegal? Yes, but no. Long before I held a pencil and wrote my first letter, I was an imaginative kid who thought about all kinds of things. Our imagination is both beautiful and a little creepy. Unfortunately, it gets immoral and illegal when we act on these unsavory thoughts.
Books and movies take our imagination up a notch by providing examples. In 1976, I distinctly recall thinking I was Luke Skywalker after watching Star Wars. I am sure millions of other kids acted the same. Yet, we knew Star Wars was fiction and that we were pretending to be an unreal person.
Yet, that is not quite the topic at hand. Pretending to be Luke Skywalker is like a costume we can wear and then take off. Creating a character is far more involved, and the characters never entirely switch off.
For example, I might want to add to the dinner conversation, “Bob did the craziest thing today… Oh, Bob is one of my characters.” It takes a lot of effort not to make such statements. I also get hung up in the real world. Why can’t it work like my fictional world? In my made-up stories, the characters do precisely what I want. The real world had lasting consequences, responsibilities, true evil, laziness, and corruption. All that negativity is still present in my story but is used as a plot device. So, the unpleasant characters are not evil, just misunderstood. Want your broken arm healed? There, all better. Your mother is not really dead…
I have been fortunate to have never talked/posted about my characters as if they were real. (Well, never been caught.) However, I feel the pull of my imagination, and I know it has led to decisions in the real world. So, an alternative perspective could be that I want the world to work as it does in my imagination.
Writers often have lofty views on society and people. I suppose this is part of the creative process and what a writer wants to see. Their interviews sometimes show their imaginary world peeking out. They have bizarre quotes like, “(Fictional characters name) would never have voted for Trump!” Such a statement is a testament to a dedicated author who truly believes in their made-up world.
A fine line exists between being a sane author and one that needs professional help. Perhaps the best authors have honed the ability to jump into a delusional world and return to reality. Maybe some have made one jump too many. On the other hand, history is full of amazing artists and writers who were truly mad.
I will do my best to keep my characters on paper where they cannot harm anyone. The good news is that I know the difference between my imagination and the real world. Well, at least I think I do. The bad news is that this world has problems that my writing cannot fix.

You’re the best -Bill
June 6, 2018 Updated May 20, 2023

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