Monday, March 20, 2017

A post my fiction-writing friends may enjoy

Scene: A featureless room, something like a collage made of empty canvases or a completely blank rectangular space.

Enter New Character, who flickers into the space, looking somehow blurred and incomplete.

New Character: Um...hello? What is this? Where am I?

Writer's Voice: Welcome. You have successfully made the journey from fleeting inspiration to fledgling character. This place is a sort of holding room at the edges of my imagination. Just where we go from here will be largely up to you.

NC: To me? But I'm not even sure who I am. Or what I am. These aren't talons, are they?

WV: That remains to be seen. As for who you are, all I know so far is that you are here. I can trace your present evolution--you are part original idea, part blatant theft of other people's good characters, and part archetypal hero--or, at least, archetypal something; I suppose it's too soon to tell if you will be a hero. But your slow evolution across many hours of daydreams doesn't tell us who you are. We will have to find out.

NC: (a little nervously) Okay. Say I buy all of that so far. How do we find out? What exactly do I do?

WV: The goal here is to bring you fully into existence and make you as human and real as possible--and, yes, you will be human in some sense even if those talons stay put. In order to do that, I will be putting you through a series of tests. By seeing how you react to various imaginary scenarios I will not only be able to figure out who you are, but also what type of story you belong in. This is a crucial part of the storytelling process, so I apologize in advance for any inconveniences you might experience.

NC: Inconveniences?

WV: Yes. My tests will be an escalating battery of physical, mental, and emotional stresses, including, but not limited to battles, assassination attempts, imprisonment, various wounds and injuries (some of which you may have received in the distant past but which still impact you in various ways) betrayal by your nearest and dearest, loss of your nearest and dearest due to death from causes ranging from natural to highly improbable to wildly paranormal, isolation, loneliness, fear, and various manifestations of existential dread. I will also need to find out if you are, for instance, the sort of person who would burn his own arm brandishing a flaming torch at a pack of wolves in a desperate attempt to keep your companions safe or the sort who would quietly take steps to toss the smallest and/or weakest member of your group at the wolves in order to escape yourself. These, and similar scenarios, are completely necessary to the eventual development of the story. They will all take place here in my imagination, but rest assured that if my imagination runs away with me and I actually bring you beyond the brink of death it's not permanent or anything.

NC: Wait--what?  I didn't agree to this!

WV: I'm afraid you did, the moment you took shape enough to appear here. But perhaps some of my older characters can explain things better.

Various Old Characters, much more distinct and real than the New Character, appear.

Old Character 1: Settle down, youngster. Let us tell you what's what.

NC: What could you possibly tell me that would make me agree to go through this?

OC 1: Well, for one thing, it's not personal. The writer doesn't hate you. She's actually quite fond of you, to get you this far and consider making you a main character.

OC 2: That's true, you know. I ended up a side character. It isn't bad--at least I exist in a story. But everybody knows the main characters get the best scenes.

OC 3: I failed my early tests and ended up a recurring character. It's steady work, but only the most avid readers ever even notice me.

NC: So you're saying that if I go along with these tests, if I do well, I'll be important somehow?

OC 2: The main character isn't just important somehow. He or she is the reason the story comes to life. Without a good main character there isn't a story.

OC 1: (chuckles) That's the truth. I'm a main character, so I know. It may not be fun to do all of this preliminary work, but believe me, it's necessary.

NC: Necessary? How? Why?

OC 1: The writer can't tell the story until she knows you. Really knows you, inside and out, knows what you like for breakfast and your current preferred weapon in single combat or your past as a tax attorney or whatever. All of that stuff tells her what the story is about. Then, too, she knows how you react to things, which is important when the story is moving along rapidly. She can't stop the action every single time to decide how you feel about snakes, or whatnot.

NC: (slowly) I suppose that makes sense.

OC 2: Of course it does. And you want to be a character, because otherwise you go back and wait for another opportunity, which might never come along.

NC: I see. (pauses for a long moment) Okay. I'll do this. Even if I think that I'm not likely to be a tax attorney, not with these talons.

WV: You never know. Let's get started.

Scene changes dramatically. New Character, becoming more visible, is running at full speed over a mountainous terrain, pursued by shapeless creatures who appear to be firing some sort of quills at him; the quills explode on contact, but New Character manages to dodge them all as he leaps over the ground. Suddenly he finds himself at the edge of a cliff. Grimacing over his shoulder, he mutters "It's always something," as talons protrude from his hands and a giant triangular wing, reminiscent of a glider, emerges from his shoulders...