You type “The End.” Then what? If you’re like me, first you cry. (I always do.) One part of you is happy. I mean you’ve worked a long time on the manuscript. Maybe you’re on deadline. Maybe you have a publisher or agent waiting. Maybe it’s the first novel you’ve written, and it feels really good—really really satisfying to be done.
But maybe, you’re like me. The deadline is of your own devise. Maybe it’s not your first rodeo (as one of the characters in my just-finished-manuscript would say). Maybe you’ve been through this a few times, maybe even with this particular manuscript. Maybe it was a major revision. Then maybe (if you’re like me) you have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I’m happy. I’d been working on this book for a long time, a really long time. I wrote it once for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. Rewrote it after that because it was a disaster. Rewrote it a third time with this major revision.
On the other hand, I’m ready to move on to something new. New characters, new storylines.
On the other hand (can there be three hands? I say yes: it’s fiction after all.), I can’t stop thinking about what the other people are doing—you know, those characters—the ones who’ve been keeping me up at night. For the last month or so (who’m I kidding, it’s for the duration) of writing a manuscript, I don’t sleep well. I wake up early and they (those people, those characters) are the first thing on my mind.
In the past few days (since I finished said manuscript), in no particular order, I’ve run the gamut of these emotions about the characters I just bid adieu to.
These characters are like friends. Except they aren’t. Some of them I really don’t like very much. But I dreamed about them. They live and breathe within me.
They are a part of me. I feel their feelings. Who am I kidding? They feel my feelings.
They are my babies. In one sense of the word (that they came from within me) they really are. But if they’re my babies, they are immaculately conceived because only I was involved in their creation—unless you count my writer friends (who I discussed them with), but that’s just weird.
I’d defend their actions, even they’re existence. I had to cut two main characters in my latest revision—one of them was my favorite character in the book—and it took me a while to convince myself those two should no longer exist. (I take solace in the fact they do exist in the previous manuscript and will someday exist again—in some way, in some part of a new story.)
When I start a new story I feel like I’m cheating (for a while). Or pretending. I don’t think I’ll ever feel again like I feel for these characters. Then I remember. It’s not my first rodeo. My other characters are only a drawer (or shelf) away.
I’ll never “see them” in real life. All my characters have hazy faces. I can’t see them clearly, but they became like living breathing people to me. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be honest and admit that one or two of my characters do have faces. I “found” one of them on Instagram. That is, I saw a face and realized it was my character. (True story.) That was weird.[pullquote]In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be honest and admit that one or two of my characters do have faces. I “found” one of them on Instagram. That is, I saw a face and realized it was my character. (True story.) That was weird.[/pullquote]
It’s not only about the people. It’s the places, too. In my mind’s eye I see every place, every scene distinctly and I can “walk through” every location. For instance, in the novel I just finished, a lot of the scenes take place in a horse barn located at the end of a long driveway. I am sad that I never get to write about that long dusty driveway again. The orange groves in a full moon. That beach in Hawaii. The pomegranate bushes in the backyard.
Everything is suspended in time. The people along with the places and action. One of my main characters dies in a war. Everyone else in the book is forever changed by his death and are left figuring out what to do with their lives. Things aren’t completely resolved, and I don’t know what will happen to these people.
See? Somewhere in the recesses of my mind they are real people.
One of my beta readers asked me what will become of the main character? When I told her I didn’t know, she said, “I think she’ll go to vet school.” That could happen, I agreed. I thought of my main character where I saw her last. Sitting in her car. Figuring things out.
Kind of where I am right now. Figuring things out.
Saying good-bye forever is hard.
What about you? How do you say good-bye to your characters? How do they stay with you?