For many years, I resisted comparing writing a book to having or raising children. But I seem to be nostalgic today and so as I’m working to bring some characters to life in my current book, I just can’t get away from the comparison. So here it goes:
I vividly remember the day we brought our first son home from the hospital. We carried him into the room we had lovingly prepared for him and laid him in the bassinet.
For a second, my husband and I stood side by side, staring down at this amazingly beautiful boy. He had dark straight hair, fat cheeks and blue eyes. He was a miracle, this tiny carrier of all our future dreams. Our hearts swelled until both of us couldn’t breathe as we imagined all the things he would one day become.
Then our beloved son, that symbol of our love, took a deep breath and began to scream.
My entire body flooded with panic. Just like that, my husband and I were thrown into the turbulent, unpredictable sea of parenthood. As I became achingly familiar with my son’s powerful set of lungs…
Dear God, why did no one tell me a perfect little baby can turn into a pint sized monster with angry wails loud enough to shatter eardrums and shred nerves?
…a dose of reality hit me. This baby was not a sweet little empty vessel sent for us to mold and shape into the perfect child.
No this baby was a real flesh and blood person beginning his life. The seeds of his personality were already there.
And guess what? He wasn’t there only to fulfill our dreams. No this child was going to have his own dreams to go after. Oh, our job as parents was going to be so much harder than we had imagined! Over time, we needed to learn our child’s wants, needs, talents, strengths, fears, flaws and weakness. And from that, we strived to guide him in developing his own dreams. The dreams that would lead him to be the best person he could be.
Now you obviously know where I’m going with this right?
Developing a character is much the same process, except without the stretch marks. When I begin with a book idea, I have these dreams, these pretty shiny visions of my characters.
But soon enough, like my screaming newborn baby, one of my characters does something that shatters my illusion. And then the real, back breaking, sweat popping work begins as I fight to discover the real person in my character. Understand his flaws, his humor, his talents, his goals and dreams. All of which I’ll use to guide him or her into character that will come to life on the page.
A character that will live on in the reader’s memory.
My son is an adult now. He’s not living the perfect life we had imagined that warm Spring day when we brought him home from the hospital. Instead, he’s living the life he was meant to and it’s so much better.
And, like his two brothers, he makes my heart swell with love.
Now if only I could get the characters I’m working on right now to that place in my heart!