Many writers have talked about how the connection with their characters is so strong, they felt they were living the story with the characters. It’s an amazing experience when that happens. Lately, for me, it’s happening a lot. The story I’ve been working on is a young adult novel set in the not too distant future during a second civil war. My characters are fleeing, and much of the story is about their travels in search of supplies and shelter. At the end of each writing session, I’ve felt exhausted, as if I had been traveling right along with them. One night, I finished up and headed to bed, but realized it was still early. I sat down next to my husband to hang out for a bit.
“You’re chipper,” he said to me. “Did you actually write?”
“Yeah, I did. Quite a bit,” I said. “Why are you asking?”
“Because you have a lot of energy, and that’s just not normal these days.”
I thought for a moment, then I said. “It’s because they didn’t go anywhere tonight. They were stationary.” And it was true – I had kept my characters in place, in a relatively calm environment for the duration of my writing that night.
When you read a good book and you connect with the characters in a way that makes them seem real to you, you become one of the characters in the story yourself. This same experience is, I believe, one of the things that makes being a writer so magical, and also what makes it so hard. When the character hurts, we hurt. When the character is angry, we are angry. It can be overwhelming at times.
Recently, I’m getting double the experience. My young writer friend has been finishing his novel and I’ve been working on it with him, chapter by chapter. It’s a good story – very good in fact. I feel that I know these characters as well as my own, and their adventure has been intense. I’ve spent hours being absorbed in the places and the events of this book, and I have loved it. Of course, after working on his book, I go home and work on mine, so typically when I get done on those days, I’m pretty much spent. More than once, I have fallen asleep at the computer, fingers resting on the keyboard. I wake up to a long string of gobbledygook spread across my page. Actually, that part is kind of funny.
My book is almost finished, and then it will be on to revisions, and then on to the next one I want to write. The adventure will begin anew. But that’s another gift of being a writing – there is never an opportunity to be bored. I already have a good idea where the next one will be. I feel like a time traveler – going to the future right now, and next, shifting to the past. The thing is, for as exhausting, frustrating, challenging as writing is, it’s one of the few ways you can have this level of adventure and still make it to dinner with the family on time.