Inside the Head and Heart of a Writer

I have the heart of a writer…

….in a jar, on my desk.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Buffy made me do it; I swear. It’s all her fault. Don’t worry. The image isn’t blood and guts and a heart. It’s making jam, strawberry. Promise.

Now, let’s get back on topic.

In the forum the other day, we were discussing characters in our novels. They are really amazing creatures, these people who live inside our heads. We breathe life into them. We make them whole, complete, real human beings, at least for as long as we hold their universe in our hands. I like the power of this, but sometimes, I balk at the responsibility of it.

When writing one of my current WIPs (work in progress for those who aren’t aware), Accepting Aimee, I have to be in a quirky mood to write her. She is like me in many respects, but in some very important ways, Aimee is nothing like me, and that sometimes makes writing her hard. Her best friend, Gigi, while nothing like me at all, is a lot like someone I’d like to be, so I find writing her (she has her own book coming up next entitled: What Makes a Woman – part of my Convington Confessions series of books) to be a lot more fun and easier for me, since I can slip into her skin, so to speak.

Writers have a tendency to become very involved with their characters. I think one of the reasons I don’t like writing short stories as much as novels is because I don’t have enough time to become involved. I like to commit, so to speak, to the people I am giving life and voice to. Usually, for me, I start getting to know the people in my novels long before I begin to write their stories. They come to me in my dreams, usually, first, and then they live in my head, and they grow there. Yes, they talk to me. In many emotional ways, they are just as real as you are to me, sometimes, more so. After all, I’ve ‘met’ these characters in my head, and most of you I have never met, at least, not beyond the internet. But these characters, I feel for them, feel with them, and become a part of them as much as they become a part of me.

I see now why some authors like to write sequels or to take one character and build a series of books around them. (Think Alex Cross and Cody McFadyen) When I finish writing a novel, I find myself wishing I could stay with the people I enjoy and relieved I’m away from the ones I didn’t enjoy but were necessary for the story.

So, when we write stories that have horrific things happening in them, horror, gore, blood, guts, murder, death, agony, torture, painful, awful things… we carry a piece of that inside ourselves. When it is EASY to write those things, when they flow freely from us, we do sometimes step back from our writing and ask ourselves, “Is that really a part of me? Am I capable of that?’

Of course, we know better than to think that just because we put it into our writing means we will actually do any of these things. I mean, Thomas Harris didn’t really eat people’s brains or chew their faces off, did he? Well, I can’t say I know that for sure, but I’m thinking it’s a safe bet he didn’t.

But still, there is psychological and emotional ramifications to carrying the voice, the spirit if you will, of characters who do things like this. We writers, we feel these things.

I have written before with tears streaming down my face. I’ve scared myself with my own scenes to the point that I screamed once when the doorbell rang and jumped and freaked myself out once when the dog barked unexpectedly. I have laughed out loud at something a character did. I have actually gotten really pissed at a character once who should have done something and didn’t, complaining about him to Ryan, and he said, “So rewrite it.”

I was like, “What?”

“If you don’t like it,” he said, “rewrite it.”

“You aren’t a writer. You just don’t understand,” I muttered, shaking my head. I looked at him like he was insane. I mean, if he did something stupid, I couldn’t just tap away at the keyboard and erase it. We would have to deal with the consequences of it, correct it, learn from it. We shouldn’t be able to, as writers, simply wave our pen, wiggle our fingers and tap out a solution. Where’s the reality in that?

Oh, but I would love for the chance to rewrite my own life sometimes. In fact, some of my first ventures into fiction writing were writing stories that were my life, but instead of it being the way it really was, I made it the way I feared it might have been, or I rewrote it the way I wished it could have been. I’ve grown beyond that now, so that I can create a real, living, breathing, feeling character and story based on nothing more than a dream, a whisper, a tease. But they say, when you start, to write what you know, and that’s how I cut my writing teeth–writing my life, rearranged, rewritten.

I mentioned in the thread where we were discussing this on the board that in my novel, What Brothers Do, I had the support of Buffy, because she was the only person I was letting read the manuscript at that time. I wouldn’t even let Ryan read it until I was finished, for a reason. The characters were very loosely based off of him and his twin brother. Very loosely based, mind you, but enough that I didn’t want him ‘correcting’ me….LOL

So anyway, in Brothers, I got to a tough spot. I had trouble moving forward with the story. I would sit and write stupid, boring, mundane stuff, just to say I was writing in that novel. I went into lavish detail about cooking a sandwich. I went into great detail about standing on the front porch watching something. I even added a couple of great sex scenes…. that I later had to cut out all of it, because it wasn’t part of the story. It was my way to stall doing what I knew I had to do.

I had to kill my lead female character. And I had begun to identified with her so much, it was like killing myself and watching me die, and then sticking around to see and feel the repercussions of that. Okay, so I didn’t kill her as in murdering her, but I had to write a scene in which she died. You see, the way I see it is, since I’m writing it, if I don’t write it, it doesn’t happen, right?

Anyway, I literally grieved for several days after she died, more than I actually cried when my grandfather died, and I loved my grandfather, really! I mean, I GRIEVED over this. I lay on the couch and cried for no reason, for three days solid! There were a couple of other hard scenes to write in this novel, two others in particular I can think of right off the top of it.

Yet, when I gave the manuscript to a limited number of people to read for editing purposes…    The scenes that are the ones they most certainly remember and talk to me about being moving and real and emotional…. it’s those scenes that I grieved over, cried over, and experienced real-life emotions about. So I’ve learned that the best writing comes when we are mired in the thick of the plot. When we truly feel what we are writing. When we are living the scene, the emotion, the ‘reality’ of it.

While this makes for exceptional reading – it’s a damned hard way to live your life.

And that’s the lot of a writer.

I will experience more as a writer in way of emotion than anyone who just lives life and I get to live my own life too. I will experience killing a man and taking pleasure in it and killing a man and feeling remorse for it, and yet I will not be jailed for my crimes (though with the way our freedoms are eroding, I might be jailed for writing about it some day! That’s another topic for another blog though).

I will experience being a virgin and having sex for the first time many times, as many times as I choose to write it! I will experience death and devastation and live through it and the horror of it. I will witness rapes, murders, torture, and brutality no one should see or experience and will live to write about it! But worse, I will live with the knowledge that I made it happen, and that had I not written it, it wouldn’t have happened. That’s the responsibility that I balk at.

But I will also make love to in the most beautiful surroundings, and eat the most sumptuous meals and have the most wonderful friends and see the most amazing things through the eyes of those people I hold inside my head for the time I am writing them.

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have….”

The facts of the life of a writer. (Pardon the trademark and copyright infringement (if anyone even remember that came from.))

My point is this: Some writer have gone insane being writers. Other writers have quit writing to prevent going insane.

Just maybe, though, the ones that are really, really good…. I think they write because they are already insane, and the only way to function as normally as possible in society is to take the voices, lives and universes in their head and put them down in manuscript story form to prevent them from taking over a person completely. I’m not insane because I write; I write because I’m insane.

But what do I know. I’m just a writer.

Cliches aside, pass the rotgut, light up my smoke, and come, let me tell you a story…

PS: No, I don’t smoke… at least, not anymore.

PPS: Check out the new front page of my website. Ya gotta read it!