Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 12, 2011

Characters Aren’t Our Children

I’m revising a novel based on someone from history. I spend a few years writing most books, so I choose someone who not only interests but moves me. There’s admiration first, then affection, and some feeling of living in the same room.

I want to protect this person I like so much. I want her to wear her best clothes, hold her kindest expressions, buckle her seat belt, don’t text and drive, and please keep her jealousies and bitter moments to herself. No, I don’t. I have to shove the mom out of the room when I write.

It’s better to be like the stepmother who sends children into the forest with crumbs of stale bread, and not even a reminder to keep away from witches and candy houses. Our characters should get in trouble. They should stumble all over themselves, collide into bad decisions and traps.

As a mom, I tried to let my daughter choose her own paths, become her own self. But with my characters, it feels right to, well, not to tell her what to wear, but to try on her clothes in the privacy of my writing room. To read her diary, even if I’m writing it as I read. To be overbearing with questions, to ask what happened at every party, to investigate the genesis of every tear. Only on this fourth revision do I sometimes feel I not only love, but sort of am my main character. That crossing over is when I know the manuscript is really starting to wake up.



  1. Wonderful! Thank you!!

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