Where do heroes come from? Exploring the bond between writer and characters.
It’s pretty rare that I write about writing on this blog; in that sense this is far from a Writer’s Blog of the classical kind. But the last few days have brought up a variety of issues and while boiling the kettle a short while ago, I had a bit of an aha moment.
Let me backtrack a little. Stay with me; I’ll get to the point as soon as I can.
Yesterday I got walloped with the worst attack of severe, paralysing anxiety I have had in many years. I teetered on the brink of all-out panic attack for about fourteen hours, before finally taking some sleeping tablets and going to bed. I woke feeling a bit better, more able to function but deeply disappointed in myself for not coping better with something I really thought I had overcome years ago. I’ve learned dozens of ways of dealing with it but none of them really worked yesterday. One of the keys to making it through to bedtime without slipping into panic was a comment by one of my Twitter friends; Christophe said “It’s just an excess of adrenaline.” Oddly enough being able to reduce it to a named hormone made it much easier for me to deal with, because it was finite. It was such a masculine approach to the problem and it really struck home more than anything else might have done.
But today, I started thinking about the novel I am close to completing and remembered that the hero of that novel has been suffering with some severe anxiety and panic issues(for good reasons, I must add) and in exploring his journey through this, I do wonder if I have stirred up something unresolved in my own. This set me to thinking even more about the deep link I have with my characters.
In Strangers and Pilgrims, each of the six protagonists reflect aspects of my own character, translated into a life and a person. Each of them has endured some pretty heavy duty suffering but writing it in a way that compartmentalised this suffering, spreading it among six people, meant that I never got the full force of it while I was writing it. When one became too much, I could just shift to another and spread the pain more thinly.
I know there are plenty of writers who see their characters as just characters and no more than that; essentially puppets or pawns to move around to serve the purposes of the plot. But that’s not the way I work. My writing is a symbiosis between the characters and a thread of story that has wormed its way between the worlds and often come to me in dreams; these stories are living, evolving beings who shift and change and demand things of me I would give to no human. And the characters come from somewhere deep, often very deep, within my own soul, emerging like old friends fully formed but with surprises in store for me. I don’t ever really know who and what they are; I listen to the tale they tell me in the darkest hours of the night and weave the words and the images I see until I am ready to write.
The novel I am working on is the third in a series and it came to me today that the connection I feel to the hero is deeper than almost any because the hero is in effect my soul’s attempts to translate my animus into a real being that has existence beyond the psyche. Is it any wonder that the last day or two have been a struggle, as I seek to bring a conclusion to this story where no ending is really possible without my own death?
I am bound up as much in my own stories as I am in my own external life, and the bond between them is such that for the years where I didn’t (couldn’t) write I knew myself to be living a half-life, barely alive and out of touch with my soul. I think that this may also be why I feel so powerfully the need to have others read my stories. John Donne wrote that No man is an island, and I believe this to be true. Who I am and what I create are so closely bound as to be inextricably linked, Siamese twins joined at the heart and mind. Without one, the other will die.