A couple of years ago I was working on a novel- not a children’s book but something for adults, and the basic plot was an inappropriate relationship between two mature people. It was a love story (and who knows I might dig it out again because it had some amazing elements in it). Anyway I based the male MC (main character)- let’s call him Mr. X- on someone I know very well. Indeed someone I developed a crush on in my teen years and I’ve never quite gotten it out of my system, and naturally the female MC- let’s call her Miss Y- was largely based on moi.
Now when I write, when I am deeply embroiled in my story, I walk a lot and I mutter to myself and I make loads of notes on small pieces of paper which clutter up my pockets and drift around on the desk and occasionally are snatched by the Lucy factor and then I have to play “oh mommy chase me around and around while I laugh maniacally and eventually fall on my nose”until I can pry them from her fingers. And I think almost continuously about what I’m writing. I feel almost sick to my stomach because the ideas and the dialogue and the plot come so quickly it seems like I’ll never be able to remember everything and pin it down on the paper. And this causes me anxiety and gray hairs and tummy wobbles.
I dream about my characters and I talk to them and scarily enough they talk back to me. I know this because I used to carry around this nifty voice activated pocket recorder and it was a bit worrying listening back to fraught exchanges acted out by breathless individuals while I was storming up the big hill on my walk. I was feverish and light-headed and possessed and as racked by emotion and guilt and longing as my MC, Miss Y, was. And as confused about it all as she was too. It was exciting and mad- as in insane-and their story colored everything about my own life. Everything.
So in the name of research I traveled to see the inspiration for the male MC. It took a lot of convincing myself, because by this time the lines between my characters and myself were sort of blurred. And you know what? He was still a wonderful, amazing person but he was nothing at all like the man I had created for my book. In fact I remember feeling sort of annoyed because he didn’t act like my hero and he kept doing stupid, clumsy things that Mr. X would never have done. He was also too old because I had freeze-dried him at 36 and he of course, as people do, had continued to have birthdays and develop wrinkles and gray hairs.
Lest you think that being sucked into one’s own fable only happens when one is writing riske material, let me assure you that this happens with my children’s books as well. I become obsessed with them. I eat and drink them. I fall completely and inexorably in love with my characters- all of them, and their lives and the situations they find themselves in. Notice I didn’t say the situations I write for them? This is because in a way I am just the hand moving the pen.
And during this long, arduous process, I am exasperated by people interrupting me- not my children who don’t know better yet, but people who stop in their cars and ask me for directions or cheerily tell me to have a nice day, because I may be here in the flesh, you may see me standing in front of you, but I am actually miles away locked in an embrace, or navigating a PoodleRat porthole, or trying to gut a snapping turtle.