My wife, The Reader, and I were having a discussion about some of my stories the other day. As she tends to do, she shed some light on a particular tendency I have as a writer — a tendency of which I was previously unaware.
I fall in love with my characters.
Normally, this is a good thing. It makes them more real, more human, more deserving of the reader’s empathy and understanding. It makes the characters memorable and three-dimensional — something I always strive for in creating characters, whether they are the leads or just supporting roles. However, in my case, it also means I don’t know when to let them go.
My latest novel idea is a collection of interconnected short stories set in an alternate reality made different from our world by a single scientific breakthrough. As the story of that world grew, so did its characters. The more I mapped it out, the more I wanted to center the story around a particular character instead of an ensemble cast. I was really excited about this idea, since it made it seem more like a traditional novel with a singular protagonist and a singular perspective. So excited, in fact, that I couldn’t wait to share it with The Reader — the perfect person to bounce an idea like this off of.
She frowned. “But,” she said, “it was perfect the way it was.”
She then spent the better part of twenty minutes explaining what had set the idea apart to begin with, and how doing what I was going to do would take away so much of its originality. After listening to her perspective, I was inclined to agree.
As a series of short stories, the novel was a glimpse into the lives that make up this other world. I imagine it to be like driving through a neighborhood with all open windows. Each house has its own story, and the reader can peek in and glimpse as they drive by — maybe even linger a while. But that’s all it should be. A glimpse … not a tour.
I want the reader’s mind to fill in the beginnings and the endings. If it goes the way I’m planning, this will be a novel of middles, each middle composing a beginning, middle and end of the overall story. It’s beautiful, really … and I have her to thank for preserving it. And while I don’t wish to disappoint any readers, its The Reader’s opinion I care about most. After all … she hasn’t been wrong yet.
When it comes to my work, I doubt she ever will.