Surprised By Our Own Characters -The Toast

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“My characters surprise me constantly. My characters are like my friends – I can give them advice, but they don’t have to take it. If your characters are real, then they surprise you, just like real people.”

It’s like my characters have a life of their own, except they don’t. They come from my brain, and then I pretend that they didn’t. 

“It is as if the creative process happened without deliberate thought on my part.”

Please…my characters. They won’t…they won’t stop surprising me. At first it was sort of cute, like when the two characters who always hated each other ended up having sex, but now they’re doing strange things. Disturbing things.

“’Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.'”

They whisper to me all the time. They dance when they think I’m not looking, together at the corners of the page. I know they sing songs about me. I know they sing songs to draw me to the water, to make me drown. But I’ll fool them. I can surprise them, too. 

“I love it when my work surprises me. After months of plot development, character development, and thematic development, you’d think I’d have it all figured out, but I never do.”

Please. They’re listening right now. They’ll be here soon. Help me surprise them. Help me before they surprise me again — 

“Playing in the moment always produces the unexpected. It’s the best (and scariest) part about this practice. Due to all the prep work I’ve done, I tend to know what will happen within a scene, I just don’t know how it will manifest. I let my characters tell me how.”

Building this bridge was such a surprise for me. It was almost as if the blueprints came from someone else. One day I turned around, and there it was: a bridge! Did I build that? I asked myself, and also everyone who happened to look at the bridge. Did that really come from me? Who could have built this bridge? What kind of a person could have possibly built this wonderful, wonderful bridge, I ask my boss who saw me build the bridge. He laughs a little, but I can tell his heart really isn’t in it, so I ask him again. 

“Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.”

There — there’s something else. Something I don’t know how to explain, exactly. It’s the most surprising character of all. A horse. A Skin Horse. A horse made of human skin, I mean. His eyes, they’re…I didn’t write him, you understand. I never wrote him into the story, not once. But I turned the page and there he was and now he won’t go away, the Skin Horse. He’s very surprising. Full of tricks. Has a way of bleeding off the edge of the page when you try to look directly at him. 

“Trying to figure out characters before I start their stories is a fun process, but no matter how well I think I know them going in, they’ll almost always surprise me by being bolder, funnier, stronger, deeper, and more screwed up than I ever saw coming.”

Oh my God, this book! Where could this book possibly have come from? Who could have collated and copyedited and typeset and printed and bound and shrinkwrapped and marketed and shipped and sold this book? It was an act of magic, and I am deeply grateful to the Elf-Queen for it.

“All my friends call me crazy because my characters basically do what they want to do, and I just follow along. Even if it’s something I don’t want them to do. For example, my main character recently decided to fall off a bridge without my permission, and now I can’t really do anything about it.”

Who could have built this wonderful bridge, I’ll sometimes ask people crossing the bridge. Crossing my bridge. Who do you think could have done it? I won’t let them step off the bridge until they give me a surprising answer. No one gets off this bridge without my say-so. No one. 

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