When I sat down to pen (with an actual pen, by the way), a writing assignment for my short fiction class at Notre Dame 8 short years ago, I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into. I was given a writing prompt and, with it, I was to write a short story. At first, the prompt seemed impossible. I had no idea how to go about it. But, I sat down at my desk with my pen anyway and, suddenly, there he was - my protagonist!
At the time, I didn't know that this 5 page short story would slowly evolve into a complete, 50,000+ word novel. My protagonist and I have grown together throughout the process. We've been through thick and thin, we've dealt with periods of separation, and we've worked through countless struggles on the page and off. Now that I've finished fleshing out the story and I have put the black pen down in favor of the red, he and I don't seem as close as we once were. Editing is tedious and a bit dry. Through my editor's eyes, he is a particleboard cutout and I am sanding the edges. Through my writer's eyes, however, he was as real as any other human walking down the street.
The other night I found myself working through a problem in my head. I was frustrated, angry, and unable to make a decision. I looked at my weary face in the mirror and felt very alone. Just then, as suddenly as he entered my world for the first time, there he was once again, smiling, as if to say "Hello, my friend".
What would he do if he were in my shoes? I asked myself. If this were his problem and not mine, how would I, as an author, have him solve it?
Solutions, options, strategies became more clear to me. I was no longer angry and frustrated, but comforted, as if I really had been talking to a friend. I realized then the importance of the relationship between the author and the character. What makes a character compelling, complete, and intriguing to the reader? To me, I believe it is that very relationship. The fact that the author knows that character so very well that he or she can write them into existence, not just for themselves, but for the world.
Rachel Boury Baxter
Writer: web content by day, fiction by night.