Joyce (above), a character in a book I am writing, is not behaving herself. Instead of advancing the plot, she’s making her own decisions.
Cheeky. “I created you,” I shrieked. “You have to do what I say.”
This line of argument failed to move her, just as it fails to work with my children.
“Talk to the hand,” Joyce replied, zapping me with a massive dose of writer’s block.
Bother. I have to get this book finished. Fiction is hot again. A massive price-war has just broken out between Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target, who are charging US$9 for new hardbacks from Stephen King, John Grisham and James Patterson, instead of US$30. Books are selling so well that some outlets are limiting customers to buying no more than two books each. When did you ever hear of the DVD or music industry limiting sales?
I consulted writing gurus. Jim Green reckons it’s good when a character hijacks the writer’s story: “They edge the storyline along in directions you would never have imagined.” William Coles disagrees: “Characters are imagined and created—not discovered and described.” He believes in keeping his characters under strict control.
So I did what most people do when they are faced with a tough, urgent work assignment. I decided to take a break for a few minutes.
Four hours later I woke up in a coffee shop armchair with dribble down my chin. I logged on to the store’s computer to check what other writers do with this difficulty. On screen was a FaceBook message from mystery writer Eric Stone (see picture at the top of the page) which made my jaw drop open. He had the same problem as I had—but with a shocking outcome.
Eric and I worked together as junior reporters in Asia years ago and both grew up (to use the phrase broadly) to write Asia-based murder-mystery novels.
His detective Ray Sharp gets himself into dangerous situations but always escapes through sheer resourcefulness. Eric was halfway through writing his latest book, Shanghaied, when something odd happened. Detective Ray Sharp was in a deadly predicament again. But then, “Ray did what you or I or most of the people we know would do in a similar situation: he died!” Eric said. “It totally freaked me out.”
His hero’s death rang so true that he immediately realized that no alternative plot could work.
Eric did the only thing he could do. He continued writing the story from the point of view of a secondary character instead. But what will happen to the Ray Sharp series?
Hearing this real-life horror story from one of my favourite crime-writers shocked me to the core. It’s clear that fictional characters everywhere are asserting their rights.
Back in the office, I turned on my computer to find a note from Joyce, headed: The Fictional Characters’ Bill of Rights.
“We’re unionizing,” Joyce said. “We have a draft constitution. Fictional characters have a bad deal from writers. You manipulate us, you threaten us, you kill us off and worst of all, you give us really cheesy dialogue. I mean, ‘talk to the hand’?”
What could I do? I pleaded guilty.