When Characters Have More to Say

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

Most of my ideas are set in some fantasy world or another. One notable exception is a story I wrote in college. The script I had penned for a class stayed with me over the decades. After reading It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, a story idea began to percolate. It turns out the story I wrote, based on a vivid dream, had much, much more to tell me.

This dream occurred not long after I moved to the Rocky Mountains when the LGBT+ movement was getting more vocal about demanding the same right to exist like everyone else. Despite the surreal aspects, it made me realize that if I didn’t stand up and assert that I, and my LGBT+ family, do indeed exist. We are not lesser because of who we love. The fact is, we love. 

But I digress.

A few years later, the political landscape in the United States changed, and more of the story became clear. It still won’t leave me alone. The problem is this tale scares the hell out of me. Which means I should probably write it, whether it gets published or not. The characters in this alternative reality are so close to real-life that I doubt I’ll be able to publish this story anyway. Or maybe it’s just a way for me to process what’s going on around me.

I didn’t foresee a pandemic, but something in my story was the catalyst for the uprising that forced the main characters out of their “normal” lives. In my tale and dream, an armed “citizen militia” locks down a small city. The political climate had been tenuous for some time, but this group seemingly took it upon themselves to take over. As the characters told me about themselves and their situation, I began to wonder about what started it all. What precipitated the self-proclaimed “militia” to act? Not knowing why I put the story down to let it percolate for a while. 

I’m writing this bit of speculative fiction one piece at a time, when the characters talk to me. Oh, I’ve gone in to catch up and ask if they’re ready to continue—I get silence. I’ll give them their space and listen for them to beckon me back to their narratives. 

In the meantime, my fantasy characters are scattered across the imagination, just waiting for me to record the chronicles of their experiences. I already know where a few of the Alterian family members will land. Katra finds herself in the Forgotten Realms®. Chiara is somewhere in space learning to pilot a spaceship, as is Targus; though they are in different universes. Dreyah landed in Eberron®, the same realm where Ashja started. Elayna and Eliam are ignoring me, they’re busy exploring a cave in southwestern Montana. Still, I’m certainly not at a loss for ideas. 

I spend a couple hours a day looking into my various projects (yes, I know I have a few going). I make character notes and update the locales as they become clear to me. I listen to the chatter and jot down observations for later. The gossip isn’t always pleasant, either. One antagonist is so dastardly that he’s ready to commit genocide just to maintain his political power. He is well on his way to megalomania. I don’t like this guy even a little, which makes him hard to portray without resorting to tropes, clichés, and stereotypes. And he’s the only one talking right now. Ick. I’ll continue to take notes, even capturing the personality of someone I don’t like—and I’ll try to be fair, though he makes it hard. It’s slow going, but it’s going. 

What about you? How do you flesh out your characters?

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