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August 26, 2010


Posted by Dana

In today's guest post, author Shandi Mitchell talks about the attachment authors often have to their characters and what the experience is really like for her.  An amazing insight into the writer's mind.  Enjoy!

Under-This-Unbroken-Sky-Mitchell-Shandi-9780061774034.jpgReaders often ask me what it is like to live with characters and then let them go. Or do I let them go? Do I grieve? For me, a writer friend’s six-year-old son described the experience best. Her husband arrived home to discover his wife in tears. He asked his son “What’s wrong?” The boy replied, “Mommy’s imaginary friend died.”

In the early stages of writing, I tend to have some distance from the characters. It is a time to listen for their voices. I am consciously aware of the plot set ups and thematic resonances. But then a shift happens and the characters begin to breathe and speak and react to situations based on the life I have given them. They seem to take control of their own story. Then it’s my job to keep up and get out of their way.
At this stage, the characters are all consuming. When I am not at my computer, they are still talking in my head—wanting to show me the next scene; vying to be heard. At night, they enter my dreams. I have found myself telling them to slow down; to wait their turn; and promising to be back for them soon. This is also when I am no longer in control of their actions. There are moments in Under This Unbroken Sky when I fought to pull out of a scene, realizing too late that a character was about to make a tragic choice. I would be begging with them not to do it, even as I wrote the words. This is when my husband would ask “What’s wrong?” And I would try to explain what a beloved character had done to break my heart. 
And then I reach the end. Those last few pages are excruciating and exhilarating. My characters’ life stories have played out. They have told me all. Typing the last word, I am torn by the ecstasy of having reached the finish line and the sorrow that it is ending. But, I’m not done yet. Through countless rewrites, I will revisit the characters and am still able to conjure them when needed. But now, the relationship is more of the head rather than the heart. I am the objective observer reviewing their lives.
Finally, the pages are locked. I can never again alter their story. It is time to let go. This is when I panic. I am desperate to hang onto them. Afraid to release them into the world to play their lives over and over again in readers’ minds. I call the publisher, “Perhaps a should be the and red should be blue? That night, I dream that my characters are lined up on a stage, waiting for me. In their eyes, I see love and sadness and reassurance. They do not speak. I go to them, one by one, and say Thank you and then they are gone.
The next morning, I wake to silence. That is when I grieve.
-- Shandi Mitchell, Author (