Like parents, writers have to learn to let go of their characters – give them lives, but let them live them.  If readers feel the writer’s presence, hiding and walking among his characters, they won’t trust him to create characters who live independently, outside of his control.  From the first breath a character takes and the first word she says,  that character should extend her thoughts, body language and most intimate conversations off the page, arms reaching out, saying, Come to mama.  Adult characters, young adult and child characters have this independent power to bring the reader into their lives, hold them there and keep them remembering them for a lifetime, but only if the writer knows them and trusts them to live beyond his control.

Think of a character, who became a person who became part of your life.  Thomas Covenant, Susie Salmon, Hagrid, Annie Wilkes and many more were conceived, born and bred in worlds that defined them, separate from their creators’ first sketches.  What made them memorable was their writers’ ability to get inside their heads, understand the full capacity of their power, then leave them to wield it.  Their writers let them act, react, feel, think, imagine, prophesy, and speak as unique individuals whose creators were never thought of once, not once, from the first page to the last.

Here are some characters locking readers into their worlds:

From Born in Utopia 

 

She let anger take hold.  Her first day of freedom was a lie.  She fumed from room to room in the empty condo, and knew where he’d be.  She found him at a waterfront café.  Rigidly, she stood beside him until he looked up.

He threw up his arms in innocence.  “What?”

Forcefully she pulled a chair away from the table and sat on its edge, straight-backed, and leaning across the table, put him in her line of fire.  “Coward!”

Patrons heard her branding him and turned away.

“I’ll order a coffee for you.”

“Don’t you dare leave this table.”

“Keep your voice down.”

“Why did you do it?”

“What?”

“Coward!  Just admit it!”

He looked away.

“Look…at…me!”

When he faced her he felt as estranged as he had before.  “I slipped up.  So what?”

“You left Gwened without any food.  She was hungry.  You ruined the whole trip.”

“And how did I do that?  I wasn’t even there.”

“We couldn’t get off the boat because of the dogs.  Gwened was frightened and hungry.  The dogs didn’t even know who I was.  Why didn’t they know me?  What did you do to them?”

“I just forgot to lock them up.”

“Liar!  You’ve changed Utopia.  It’s not safe.”

and from Into the Attic and Out:  Book One of Seeds

“Where’s everyone?”  He slid past her trying not to touch the chair that had the ghost in it.  The ghost she liked to sit on and put her arms around and talk to when he wasn’t listening.

“They’re all out.”  She moved sideways so he could get into the kitchen.  She watched his sullen face, watched him in the middle of the kitchen staring at the floor.  “Are you okay?  You look sad.  It’s Saturday.  You usually don’t have time to look sad.”

“I’m just thinking about things.”

“Uh huh.”  She waited for the “things” to bite into the cloud-like silence.  She wished she had kissed him when he came into the mud room, but he stopped kissing her when Jake died.  And he stopped walking the dog after that…didn’t say good-bye to it when they put it down a year later.

“Like what things?”

He found air in the bottom of his lungs and pushed it out – a long sigh, like a sullen breeze that matched his mood.  “I’m thinking about us.  We’re growing older.  Soon we’ll be moving away from one another.”

“Hey!”  She left the lap of the ghost on his favorite chair and moved to the kitchen table.  “Maddy’s eight.  I’m not planning to send her into forced labour for a while.”

He sat opposite her.

“I know you never talk about personal things and that…that numbs me.  It leaves me less maternal than I want to be, but whatever’s bugging you, I want to know about it.”  She knew it wasn’t only his fault.  She knew sometimes – too many times – she found more comfort alone with her plots and characters and alone with the strangers she brought home, than she did with her real kids.

“And I know I’m not always here, so you keep to small talk and school talk, but I’m slowly, very slowly finding my way back.”

“Forward I hope.”

“Okay.  Forward.”

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