Finding your character’s voice is a lot like finding your writer’s voice. It’s not something that can be forced.
While I ride the agent query coaster, I started a second book. The logical part of me thinks this is the act of a crazy person but the other 98% is losing sleep over the new project.
The new story was born while editing the first one. Having no choice while I wait out my fate— to stay sane and in my skin—I write during the spare minutes of my day. For a writer with multiple lives—domestic goddess, professional (not that kind), wife, mother, chef, fixer, poet—this sometimes means early in the morning, late at night, between professional meetings (not that kind), on the train, in the bookstore, at the library, and late evenings.
As I pen the pages and these fingers of mine tap dance across the keyboard, I am becoming acquainted with my characters, which is the most fascinating part of my writing process. The first few weeks, I shimmer like a Hollywood holograph between realities, the concrete with four walls one, and the ethereal, hovering above ground and out of reach, one.
I am in a writer’s whiter shade of pale. It’s half way between reality and where a trillion fireflies light up the dark side of the unknown. A writer’s well of words, a storage chest of possibility, an empty room that fills upon entry. It’s a place of wonder, where words flit about on the wings of doves. It’s lofty, it’s celestial, it’s a dark saloon with a long bar lined with red Naugahyde chairs, only found at the edge of nowhere where Sam Spade is tending bar. It’s where a writer hides out from the realism of her life to connect, submerge, give passage to, or simply slip into conversation with her alter ego of imaginary voices and yet to be formed characters.
I do not force my ideas or ideals on an emerging persona. I allow them to evolve on their own without too much nudging. It’s not an exact science. It’s a lot like dating, making a new friend, or taking a new lover. There are coffee dates, lunches, dinners, and sometimes, sleepovers. It takes time to become acquainted with a new lover or friend. I wish it were as easy as inserting my debit card to the ATM machine followed by twenties shooting out for purchasing character attributes at Characters R Us, but it’s not. It can take weeks. Money isn’t a currency the imagination understands, not really.
When a character comes to you, they can show up with a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage, or backpack, or a Safeway bag, and sometimes with nothing at all. It’s never the same from story to story or character to character, and for every writer, the process of defining is as unique as a snowflake. I start with a name and have the threadbare tapestry insight to their journey. The rest of their life comes into focus as I go along with them to their journey.
Rosa, my new shero and constant companion, has to make peace with her past, lay some ghosts to rest, confront her sisters, Ibbie, Dulce, and Cha-Cha, as well as help her best friend, Lucille, get on with her own life. None of which is clear to me tonight. All I know as I sit in the bar talking to Sam listening to Patsy Cline—Rosa’s favorite—playing on the Jukebox, is Rosa and I are both aching for something just out of reach. The longing is fierce for me as I type these words. I know this hunger all too well. There is nothing to satisfy me tonight, there are no answers, there is no peace coming with sleep, there is only this hunger and Patsy Cline. It’s going to be a long writer’s night (not that kind).
When what you are looking for is just out of reach, what do you do?