Saying Goodbye to Characters – The Challenges

fullsizeoutput_16bOver the years, authors have often commented upon: How hard they find it to finish a book or series; How reluctant they are to leave the characters they have created; How it feels like the end of a life experience, if not of life itself, to finally complete their manuscripts. Reading such comments some may ask: Are they insane? Are they psychotic?

What leads to this attitude?

With the exception of a very few, though they may even experience similar sensations, authors spend an inordinate amount of time in the creation of a character. This is especially true if the character is to come across the page as realistic and not just a one or two dimensional image that lacks any semblance of life. Inevitably, as with any relationship, the two become very attached, one to the other (yes, in fiction, it is possible for a character to ‘feel’).

  • Is it possible these characters have become substitutes for those from whom the author desired affection but did not receive it?
  • Are they imaginings of lost ones whose presence may never again be experienced?
  • Have they become intermediaries for those who have treated the author unfairly or with cruelty?
  • Perhaps these are imaginings of what a person and relationship could have been like?

Of course, any of the above and more may be true. But there is also the factor of an author’s imagination that may not be based upon any actual event or person. In fact, with most fiction, this will undoubtedly be the case. An author is a creative being who often encompasses insight into another ‘world’; another dimension; another possibility.

Some may consider it unhealthy for an author to develop an attachment to fictional charters but the truth is: if they are to effectively convey the personalities, thoughts, reasonings, deliberations, desires, reactions, etc. of the character, they need some sort of attachment; an empathy; an understanding; etc. with, and of, the character.

Naturally, the author must guard against their characters becoming psychotic hallucinations. Thankfully, in general, this is handled by ‘real life’ interaction with family, friends, colleagues and social contacts. In some instances however, the author is someone who is on their own, who does not have such regular contacts. These need to be aware and make the effort to go out and meet people or at least to speak to someone, on the telephone or by whatever means they may find. Of course, there are some where even that is not possible in which case they should, at a minimum, go to the shops (not constantly shop online). Admitted, social media online/internet interactions may help to some degree but, in addition, there really needs to be some ‘real’ world contact, no matter how minimal. Naturally, this does not just apply to authors: everyone, for their own mental health, needs some sort of external interaction.

Non-fictional characters

So far this discussion has centred upon fictional characters but what about those who author autobiography, biography or memoir? Are they in the same boat?

Yes, though the ‘characters’ have not been ‘developed’ but are ‘real’ people. In some ways this may be more of a problem because, frequently, these real personalities are people who are no longer in this world. They have passed on but are often missed and remembered with deep affection. The pain of their loss can be intense.

Perhaps, in some ways, the author needs to be more guarded with these. Depending upon the circumstance, it is possible for depression, bitterness, resentment, the urge for revenge, etc. to dominate where the recorded experience was a negative, cruel, painful one. Even where they were positive, depression and the loss of hope may undermine with the resulting consequences of an unsettled mind and spirit that may lead who knows where.

Facing the end

What was the original intention? A question authors need to ask when coming to the end of a manuscript and sensing a reluctance to actually complete it. Of course, it was to write and publish a book that would appeal to, interest and hopefully inform and entertain readers. How can this ever be achieved if the book is never published? So there has to be an end.

The author needs to understand, over the months, possibly years, of writing they have had to imagine how a character reacts and speaks in given situations whether public, private, confrontational or peaceful and that, as a consequence, they have become part of their mind set and life but also that they are not real. Can be especially confusing for those who live on their own or have no other occupation. But, as with all things, there comes a time to say goodbye; to move on; to anticipate the next step or stage of life. If they do not, how is their next book ever going to get written?

The end of a project/book is not the end of life. Admittedly it may feel like a two edged sword: the reluctance to let go but the anticipation, and excitement, of facing something new. And, in truth, it is unlikely, as with ancestors who have passed on, they will ever fully forget those intriguing personalities to whom they have given life. Memories are a part of everyone’s existence. Precious treasures that accompany to the end.

New Project

Most authors have several ideas buzzing round in their heads which need to be released. It is to these they should be looking rather than mourning what is passing. They should learn from what has preceded. Be proud and satisfied with what has gone before. But, should always look to the future. There are new exciting prospects ahead and, hopefully, further and better success. The world would be the poorer if they did not give body to their imaginings and creativity.

Are authors insane? Are they psychotic?

To answer the question some may have posed at the start of this narrative.

The answer: NO. Authors are simply another branch of the creative world, of an art form that many enjoy and value. All artists/creators come to a stage when they are reluctant to let go because their creation has become their ‘baby’. Nevertheless, they do and as a consequence the world is usually blessed with another wonderful work of art.

It should be noted many readers feel the same when coming to the end of a book they have enjoyed. They do not wish to part from the characters or to say goodbye to those they have come to know through the pages. So this situation is not the prerogative of authors, it applies across the board whether author, reader, theatre patron, film enthusiast, television addict, etc.

Not alone!

So, for any author reading this, be aware you are not alone. Your experience is shared by many of your colleagues. You are not insane or psychotic. To regret the end of something enjoyed is human. It applies to all walks of life, to all peoples no matter their profession or circumstance. But it is not the end, just another beginning.

Take heart fellow authors: say goodbye to what has been and then hello to the new, exciting and perhaps complex charters who will start to occupy new pages, new manuscripts and, ultimately, new published books. You have much to share and much to tell. People are waiting to read your stories to enjoy the worlds and characters you create.

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