Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Saturday, March 3, 2012


I was recently given advice in relation to blogging about Good Fortune. “Select a character and explain why readers should get to know him or her. Tie the character into a historical context, current events, a trend or a niche interest.” Maybe that’s sound advice but it’s not my personality. So while musing about what to focus on in my next blog and how to approach it, I recalled something unexpected that happened while I was writing chapter 22. Then, I took it a step further but I'll get to that later. Let me preface this by admitting I’m no expert on how or why this happened—it just did. I’m not a professor of writing fiction or else I’d offer you a rational explanation.

I had just started writing a new chapter when two characters, Tom Clark and Lyle Gardner, appeared unexpectedly. Tom and Lyle differ from my other characters because they don’t fit into one of two molds—either college educated professional Caucasians or 4 generations of Asian-American immigrants striving for the American Dream. In contrast, Tom and Lyle are rough around the edges working class guys, high school graduates who have gone through some tough economic times, are currently without girlfriends and are living rent free in a Big Sur cabin Lyle inherited from his dad. They’re long-haired bearded outdoors types who have done construction work and whatever blue collar jobs they could find in Salinas. Since moving to Big Sur they’ve managed to support themselves as artists. Tom creates wind chimes from driftwood pieces, beach glass and shells he gathers for free, and sells his creations to wealthy private clients and tourist shops. Lyle is an expert wood carver who sells his work at coastal galleries. These two guys are best friends since high school, and spar with each other through playful insults and constant shoving.

I admit their arrival came as a complete surprise since I thought I had the whole book neatly planned out, characters and events all listed in chronological order so as I wrote, I methodically checked off each item: done. After I completed the draft of chapter 22, I leaned back in my chair and gazed at the computer screen somewhat perplexed and asked aloud, “What just happened? Where did those two guys come from?” The interesting thing about Tom and Lyle is not only did they spontaneously appear without fanfare, but they added a level of depth to my story and tied things together in a way that otherwise might not have worked so well. The manuscript is better because of them.

Before writing about my surprising experience I indulged in a bit of fantastical musing about Tom and Lyle’s spontaneous generation and my imagination came up with a possible scenario. What if there’s a place “somewhere” close to earth where fictional characters exist while waiting to be called? I imagine this as being like a lavish resort. It has a swimming pool and tennis courts and is near a white pristine beach lined with swaying palm trees and blooming tropical plants that permeate the air with fragrance. The ocean is always warm and calm and the weather placid and sunny. The tanned and rested unemployed characters enjoy themselves every day doing what people do when vacationing. There is no pressure on them and no demands on their time. They hang out, get massages and facials and manicures, eat delicious healthy gourmet meals they don’t have to prepare for themselves, don’t have to do laundry or pay bills or do anything unpleasant or be distracted by mundane tasks. No one talks politics and argues philosophical differences, no one dies, marriages don’t fall apart, children are perfectly well-adjusted and behaved; there isn’t a care in their utopian world.

Then suddenly a bell rings, or a sleeve is tugged, or perhaps a cell phone buzzes and an agent calls and says something like: “Hey guys, Leslie Bratspis is writing a novel and you’re both needed or her book is going to be lacking in depth. No time to pack. Her fingers are typing as we speak and I’m sending you to help her hone her craft NOW.” Do you think this is possible? And if so, what happens to characters who suddenly find themselves written into a situation they don’t like? Perhaps they’re given radical political views they don’t share or they’re being pursued by a psycho killer and there’s nowhere to hide. Or they’re tossed into a manuscript where demands are made on them to solve mysteries, survive tragedies, work jobs they don’t like or their personalities are altered to the point they can’t stand how they’re portrayed. So much for resort living. Is this too far-fetched? I told you I was musing!

I hope Tom and Lyle are happy with the way I depicted them and I don’t think I have to apologize for tearing them away from an idyllic life out there “somewhere” in the ether before they came alive on the pages of Good Fortune. I’d like to hear your point of view of where characters suddenly emerge from, and have you ever experienced such a thing yourself when writing? Please email me your thoughts and experiences to lesliebratspis@yahoo.com.

Yours in good fortune,
Leslie Bratspis
© 2012

For all you folks with e-Readers I'm participating in "Read an e-Book Week" beginning March 4th - 10th. Be sure to enter coupon REW75 at checkout to receive your discount. Go to http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65462. Wishing you good fortune!

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