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Ella: Who Are You and What Are You Doing In My Story?

Word Count: 24,008

Yes, that’s exactly the same. Joy the babysitter was at summer camp this week; there was food poisoning, emergency dental work, and other things that fall into the category of Too Much Information. So I did not add to my word count this week, which is a shame, because the story has been itching at my brain.

I had a character walk into a scene last month. I’ve heard other writers talk about this happening to them, but it’s never happened to me before. I had a scene that involved a—I’m not sure what you call it, but I’m sure there’s a stage term I used to know for it. When you write a scene in a store, there is someone at the register who might not be part of the scene, but she is there. Or when your character’s at a restaurant, there’s a waiter. Scenery people. One of my scenery people walked into the scene, and she was a character.

Usually when I add a character to a story they’re kind of shadowy in my imagination until I do enough detail work to give them a voice and a face and a story of their own. I find a picture of an actor, which gives me the face and the voice; I like screen grabs, because if you get a good one there’s wardrobe and background, too, to add elements to the character. I might at some point find them a house, a car, a purse if the character is a woman (I’m a little purse-obsessed). I usually struggle with giving them a consistent voice and motivation through the first draft of the scene.

So imagine my surprise when a character that was supposed to be a scenery person walked into the scene, and I could see the way she walked, I could hear her voice; I could see the expression of impatience on her face. I knew what she looked like, I knew what her house looked like, and I’m pretty sure I could tell you the contents of closet and refrigerator. And what her house smells like. (Dog and dust, I suspect. She’s busy, so cleaning isn’t a top priority.

I thought, hunh.

But then she left the scene and it moved on, and that was that, until last week when I was writing a scene and she popped into that one, because as it turns out she’s the antagonist’s next-door neighbor, and that seems kind of suspicious to me. I think she may have a bigger role in this story than just a “scenery person.” Admittedly I don’t have this story as well planned as I’d like to, and the last story I wrote went places I hadn’t expected it to, so this shouldn’t be a shock, but still. People, I’m a planner. Plus, I don’t even like to use the word “muse” because it’s too woo-woo for me, so fully formed characters walking into my stories with agendas of their own is . . . how shall I say this? Freaky? Weird? Outside my experience.

It’s really interesting, though. It makes the story more urgent, somehow. It’s banging at my brain, this scene that she’s popped into that I haven’t been able to finish. I want to finish the scene and figure out her role in the story. I don’t think she’s a mentor, or another antagonist. She’s a good person, and I think she’ll help, but this story isn’t her story, so I don’t know how involved she’ll be. It’s weird. It’s fascinating. It’s . . . fun.

The featured image for this post is a poster that is part of the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration. It was created in 1943 by the Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, Bureau of Special Services. The full image is available here.

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2 comments on “Ella: Who Are You and What Are You Doing In My Story?

  1. L. Palmer
    August 28, 2013

    Characters who randomly introduce themselves are often the most fun to write.

    • 2unpublishedgirls
      August 28, 2013

      Ella: Yes, but I’m an uptight control freak. Randomness really isn’t my thing. ;)

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This entry was posted on August 2, 2013 by in Craft, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , , , .

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