Having lived in silence about the people populating my head for more than five decades, I have decided, finally, to open up about this whole crazy process of creating fiction. At least I can explain my crazy process, and the blasted characters who drive me up a wall.
There is a debate among writers about where the storytelling process takes off. One camp says it begins with an idea, like terrorists take the White House. The other argues it starts with characters. As in, a teen girl who finds out she had a major past-life role in the cruelties of her society’s overclass. Or, a young physician whose parentage becomes public knowledge, and sparks bitter political conflict.
Put me firmly in the latter camp. Stories that start with an idea tend to spawn characters with no depth, no arc of self-discovery and growth. This is painfully obvious with too many films. Maybe the premise was high concept but the characters end up strictly low rent and lame, lame, lame.
I didn’t consciously decide to begin with characters. They chose me, or at least it seemed that way. Like so many writers of my antediluvian generation, I read J.R.R. Tolkien, and was profoundly inspired. I rather imagine J.K. Rowling is filling the same role for today’s cohort of budding scribes. But, I didn’t want to write more elves-dragons-swords fantasy.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the aforesaid. I’ve read plenty of terrific works in the Tolkien-like genre. But, I wanted to do something different.
I need not have worried. Beginning when I was 13, characters started invading my daydreams. They most decidedly weren’t elves or dwarves or dragons or knights in shining armor. They were human beings. I had no idea who they were then but I could see them, and hear them speak in my mind. Vividly. Clearly.
I literally spent decades and lots of thought time getting to know them. They entranced and unnerved me. I once was standing in a checkout line at a Safeway, and reached for a baby name book sitting on the impulse purchase rack. I opened it to the G section and saw the name Griffin. That’s me, one character said. I heard it in my head. I quickly closed the book, and put it back.
Another time, I was in downtown Dallas heading toward the YMCA for a weekend workout. I heard two characters, brothers, talking. One cracked a joke and I guffawed loudly. At that exact moment, I looked up and noticed a business acquaintance walking out of a building close enough to hear me. She must have thought I was loony, by myself and laughing out loud. I smiled, and waved, and walked on to the gym, a bit faster.
My point is that, until an author knows her characters, she doesn’t know how they will behave in different situations. And, if she doesn’t know how they act and react, she cannot craft the plot. That’s because the events of any story, a.k.a. the plot, arise straight out of the characters’ motivation, and what’s in their hearts. Griffin, as it turns out, is mean, petty, vicious, and spiteful with a mountain-size chip on his shoulder. And, he acts accordingly, stirring up all manner of mischief, and driving the plot in various ways. At times, I really just want to smack him and say, “You have so much! What is your problem?”
But, that’s the thing about my characters. They don’t give a rat’s behind about what I think. They’re going to do what they are going to do. That realization led me down an amazing spiritual path.
Creativity and spirituality, at least for me, are inextricably linked. I talk more about that in my author backstory.
A native of Los Angeles, C. L. Talmadge is a professional writer and energy-healer who takes clients to meet their spirit guides. In 1999, under the byline Candace L. Talmadge, she co-authored nonfiction about emotional and spiritual healing based on the Sunan approach. She recently completed a self-help work that teaches a simple method of communicating with souls after death–and before birth.
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