You know how it is, when you are doing something that doesn’t require much brain-power, your thoughts clangity-clang around. Like while showering, or washing dishes, or driving until you realize that you’ve gone five-ten miles and have no idea how you went five-ten miles completely unaware that you’d been driving—of course I never or rarely sometimes only just every so often do that driving thing. Um. Yeah.
Sixty-five percent of my errant flippity thoughts are tossed out as trash. Twenty-five percent are sucked, disappearing, into the black hole in my brain—that cavernous mysterious pitch-black waiting room that provides when it feels like providing. Two percent is what I talk about in polite conversation; twenty-three-point-three percent is what I won’t talk about in polite conversation. And lastly but not leastly fifty-two-point-five percent goes into appropriately-tabbed folders for writing, life, work, and what-a-knot. Yeah. That’s more than 100%. Welp. Let’s move on and not examine all my chaos, ‘kay?
Folders for work-related stuff. Folders for family and friends. Folders for health, food, fun. There’s the folder marked DO NOT OPEN! that I do not open but occasionally that folder is so full of gooey green gaseous putritude that out explodes the negative crapity-doo-dah-day. Imagine Pig Pen from the Charlie Brown comics but instead of dirt and dust it’s a swarm of every bad thought and decision and failure—perceived or real—that you’ve ever experienced, and each little globby stinging hornet has a big fat stinging mouth that sounds like someone Not Good For You. Dang!
Then, there is that lovely multi-colored sparkly shining dazzling Writing Folder. And it is there that I will lovingly tuck these flashes of a character. I’m sure many of us have this happen, you know, the character and a tiny scene so shiningly exceptional that you just can’t WAIT to begin what will surely be the Novel You Have Always Wanted To Write. For example, this character who so flashed in my head one fine day:
She named the child Praline, pronounced it Pray-Leen. What got his goat was how stupid a name that was. And how that name could be pronounced in two ways according to where a person lived: Pray-leen could just as well be Prah-leen, and that shot to hell her idea that the kid would have “pray” in her name, all come to Jesus-like, wherever she may go. That woman did other things to get a hold of his goat, things that sent his spine straight up and his fingers to curl into a fist, a fist he never used on her of course even when he wanted to since she was a hellfire bitch. A fist that tightened all the way up to his jaw and caused his teeth to clench and grind. His thoughts stomped on his brain as he pushed the bullets into his gun. “Me or her,” he said, “which it’s gonna be, me or her ….”
Ohhhh! Golly Gee! I was all excited about that man, and what’s he going to do with the gun? Ohhhh! And who is the hellfire-bitch, and really, what’s going to happen with Pray-Prah-Leen? Ohhhh! I rushed home from my errands, forgetting I was driving for like thirty-three miles and once home I skipped to my laptop with glee and wrote out that scene, sat back with a grin, and then something shiny caught my eye. That was about five years ago. Haha! Where’d that character with his gun go? And the woman, and Pray-Prah-Leen? In a file-folder? Nope. They went off to . . .
The Island of Misfit Characters. Where all the wayward characters go. Because they are Not Quite Right. Oh, a few have built little boats and somehow made it back to civilization where they founder and flounder and end up aimlessly in a short story or poem. But most happily stay on the island, building little communities and living their lives without me to interfere.
There’s simply no way to keep every little thought or idea tucked in a file, no matter how much we think (at the time) how perfect it will be, at the ready for a future novel that will capture the imagination of millions of readers who will love you and adore you and probably make a movie and maybe you’ll even have a cameo and be discovered for the genius you really are. There’s no way every character, every scene, every brilliant thought that explodes brilliantly into our brilliant minds can grow up to become a brilliant novel.
Eventually, we need to focus on one character or if you are a plotty-outliney kind of writer then focus on a plot or an idea. For me, the character who is the loudest, or the most persuasive, or especially the one who sneaks into my brain with some kind of interesting glitch about them that makes me want to follow them to see what they’ll do. Whatever your process is, well, that’s the one right for you. But if your process is to become overwhelmed by eighty-galleven ideas and characters and there you sit at your writing area staring at all your file folders and oh where to begin! What to write next! Which character to follow? There’s so many ideas and characters and thoughts. *pant pant pant* Maybe I’ll go make a sandwich and watch some television.
We would do well to remember that just because some characters go to the Island of Misfit Characters doesn’t mean we will come up dry. Why, gee, we could send fifty-two characters to the Island of Misfit Characters and still ten more would take their place. Or, maybe for you the numbers are inverted. But if a character is not right, they are not right, and forcing them into worlds where they don’t want to be never works. Let them have their Island. Let them go.
Imagine rowing out to the Island of Misfit Characters to take back with you a character you once dreamt up, and stepping onto that island all these characters who’d been living just fine without you are reminded about you and then they surround you and they’re clawing at you, yelling, screaming, begging, pleading, cajoling, threatening, “MEMEMEME ME! Me Next! Me Next! Write about ME ME ME! MEEEEEEE!” *Shudder;* gives me the willies. Lawdy! Nope, stay away from there. You’ll grow mad! Mad I tell you! Mad!
If we let those errant characters and scenes distract us, then how will we Actually Write The Book. We’ll be forever Starting A Book. You know, like how people say, “I have ten novels in my head!” Well, get rid of nine of them and write the one you are supposed to. And the Supposed To is what you gotta figure out by sending the wrong characters to the island and leaving them there. Oh, they don’t mind. Really! I promise. And you can always trust what a writer says for we are honest and true and considerate and kind and our mothers and besties think we rock. Then, once you set that character and idea free to the Island of Misfit Characters, you can then concentrate on the character-scene that motivates you to stick to it from beginning to end.
Would you like to share a character you thought would be in your Next Great Novel? That you then sadly and regretfully had to send off to the Island of Misfit Characters ? Write it in the comments if you want(dare).