Saturday, April 27, 2013

Xena -- Warrior Writer

I have a Halloween costume for a sorceress that I named Xena -- long before the warrior princess.
She is a seer and a wise woman, a medicine woman, wearing a scrying glass, and carrying a crystal ball and an enchanted staff. She wears her hair in a braid coronet around her head. She has become a whole character, not just a costume. I'm a writer. It's what I do.

There are armies of characters billeted in my head. There are whole worlds, some already discovered and many more yet to be discovered. Fortunately, I do not have costumes for all of them.

There is one world in which I have been spending a great deal of time. I am editing one book that takes place there and planning a second book. The place is the fictional Succotash County, Arkansas, a magical little corner of the world in my head. It is a place were the funny, strange, weird, and bizarre are in play at all times.

I don't know if I was born with all of these people in my head or if I somehow collected them along the way. I suspect the latter. Somehow they appear just when I need them. Kind of like old friends I haven't seen for awhile. I don't spend a lot of time agonizing over character development.For me they come fully developed and usually charged with plenty of attitude.

A writer friend on Facebook recently asked the question of our writing community of how we create characters. There were many different responses, from writing a page on each character to filling out worksheets. I seem to take a more intuitive approach. My response was that I "get to know them as I write." They know who they are and, like making friends,  I find out as I go along.

They seem to come in and exit on cue like actors on a stage. I do not choose how they look, they just appear in my mind. Otherwise how can I explain that my male main character looks like television chef Alton Brown? It I had been thinking it instead of feeling it he would have been likely to look more like George Clooney. To be honest, the Alton Brown look is far more real. I would like to say it was a stroke of genius, but it was more like just a stroke.

The only characters in the book based on real people are the main character (loosely based on myself), the MCs mother (loosely based on my mother), and the cat (based not-so-loosely on my cat). Everyone else is a complete denizen of my mind.

There are some associations to the outside world. Somehow Sheriff Harlan Tuttle is the cousin of a redneck, gravy-loving character that Jay Leno used to do on the Tonight Show. Who knew? These things happen.

Foxworth Memorial Park is a tribute to one of my muses, comedian Jeff Foxworthy. I also named a business for comedian Bill Engvall for the same reason. Just to be clear here, the book IS humor.

The minister's daughter is named Georgia Brown Fanning because she was born at a Harlem Globetrotter's game in Atlanta.

But I digress.

The reality of all of this is that in someways all of these people are me. Much like actors in different roles, writers take on different personas  The trick is that we do it far more often as we spend a few hours writing. Like an actor performing in a one-man show, we can cycle quickly though the characters in a scene. We may take a pause occasionally to regroup our thoughts, then we keep going.

We constantly walk around with this cast of characters in our heads. Sometimes they stop talking to us and we experience writer's block. Other times they all start talking at once and we take up drinking (just kidding).

Sometimes I think of it as having an alternate universe inside my head, or perhaps just a different dimension of this one. We are never alone. (Cue eerie music here.)

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