When characters revolt

Published in The Emporia Gazette, Oct. 14, 2014

It’s no secret that many journalists are working on the Great American Novel on the side. I am no exception.
In fact, I’ve been working on one (actually two) for several years now. However, after an exhausting go at National Novel Writing Month — where you write 50,000 words during the month of November — I put the novels back down. On a side note, yes I did finish the 50,000 words both years I participated. The problem with the challenge is quantity — not quality — makes for some major editing challenges when I finally got over the burnout of writing that much in 30 days.
Until recently, I simply didn’t have a desire to pick the novel back up and work on it. A few weeks ago, I decided to get my hands dirty again and delve back in. And I’ve had some interesting results.
The problem with putting down a novel for a few years is this: you forget. You forget your own material. You forget characters, details and portions of the plot. To even begin to finish the book, I have to first read and edit what I already have written, which is no simple or easy task. I’ve had several moments with this whole process of reacquainting myself with my novel: “Oh, that’s clever!” or “Oh man, what was I thinking? That is terrible!”
But I continue on. I’ve spent countless hours after my day job here at The Gazette editing, rewriting and planning the next step in my novel. It’s a lot of hard work. But, I love the creative process and the reward (eventually and hopefully) will result in my first published novel.
A couple weeks into the process, I decided to edit my manuscript late at night, when I was having a fit of insomnia. That, I found, was a mistake.
The main character in my novel made an appearance in my dream that night — a nightmare really. She not-so-gracefully informed me that she would end my life if I didn’t re-write her part in my novel. The conversation went like this:
Main character: “I don’t like how you are portraying me in your book. If you do not change my image, I will murder you.”
Me: “But you’re not even real! You can’t make demands like that!”
Main character: “Do I look real to you?!”
Indeed, she did look real in my dream.
Again, this is my main character. The character I’ve shaped and molded turned against me. Well, at least in my dream.
The best part of this dream is I got a good clear look at her. Am I rewriting her character? No. Did I refine her? Yes. Because now I know her tone of voice, the way she walks and other characteristics I didn’t previously know.
I invite more of my characters to visit me in slumberland — I just wish they wouldn’t threaten to kill me.

—Brandy Nance is the online and news editor for The Emporia Gazette. Her blog, The Wandering Pigeon, can be found online at lifefrontandcenter.blogspot.com. Brandy can be reached at brandy@emporia.com.

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