I can remember the exact moment my characters started sassing me.
I was in the sixth grade. I’d written what I considered to be a lot by this time, and I was pretty cocky about my writing skills. I was a fabulous writing, worlds flourishing over page after page of blankness, ideas coming to fruition in the blink of an eye. I was even too good to write in notebooks or on a computer. Such means were for primitive writers, or writers who had given themselves up to the cold, unfeelingness of technology. No, I wrote on a typewriter. A typewriter. It was not an old typewriter that you’d have to “x” out your mistakes, oh no. It was electric, and had a correction tape. I would routinely turn it on and sit at my desk a while before writing, listening to it purr. I was so sophisticated, I hardly knew what to do with myself.
It was about this time I began to roleplay online. Now, of course, roleplaying was different than writing, meaning I could use the cold, unfeelingness of technology and not feel bad about it. I wasn’t really writing. Looking back, I feel bad for anyone I roleplayed with in my early years. I was an unapologetic God Moder and Power Player. I was unable to differentiate between where my characters ended and another person’s character began; I was used to dictating the actions of all the characters, all the time. After I’d been properly yelled at several times, I simply had my characters start commanding other characters to do things. Which, of course, the other characters would go “No. I’m not gonna do that.” Which frustrated me, but there was little I could do about it.
My characters slowly began becoming less my little puppets and more, well, characters. And they started to get ideas. The first character to get ideas was Lysia. Lysia, at the time, was my baby. She was a strong, sassy girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. So one day, as I was writing out what I wanted Lysia to do, and picturing it in my head, she sucked in her cheeks and put her weight on one foot and crossed her arms. And then she spoke words I had not written for her to speak. “No. I’m not gonna do that.”
I was perplexed. I was beyond perplexed, my character was talking to me. And she wasn’t behaving. She was actively refusing to do what I was writing.
Of course you’re going to do it, I wrote it already, so you have to do it, I thought at her, which was weird. She wasn’t real, why was I trying to communicate with her? But she just stood there, a firm pout on her face. “I’m not gonna do it.”
Well. I was her creator. She had to obey me. I wrote the rest of my paragraph and sent it off to my roleplay partner.
But the rest of that section just felt… wrong. Because in my head, Lysia was standing there, watching the other characters in the scene interacting with each other and acting as though Lysia was doing everything I was saying. But she wasn’t. She was firmly planted where she’d been when she told me she wasn’t going to do what I told her. I stopped replying to that thread and tried to make amends with Lysia. Eventually, I had to let her go, because I didn’t know how to deal with her, and she refused to do anything I said anymore.
Slowly, my other characters started doing the same thing. More than that, they started doing what they wanted. They’d hide from me, they’d demand attention, they’d whine and complain and talk to each other. Stop! You’re not even all from the same story lines!! I remember thinking. The quiet ones, the docile ones, they listened to that. They crept back into their hiding places though, either refusing to be allowed character development or whimpering that they were afraid of the other characters in their universe. Or plotting against me. That happened a lot.
I quit roleplaying. That had to be the problem. I needed to be able to control everyone. So I started strictly writing stories again, on my typewriter, in my room, in the quiet, with just the hum of the motor and the clack-clack-clack of the keys.
But these characters had ideas born into them. They didn’t develop them, they had them before their names even hit the paper.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. Was there something wrong with me? Clearly, there was something wrong with me. First off, I’d heard that hearing voices was a sign of a mental illness. Secondly, my own creations didn’t want to do what I wanted them to do. How could I keep writing like this? How?
I couldn’t, I decided. I couldn’t. So I stopped.
That is, until seventh grade, when I got into cyber school and needed something to do to bide my time.
I didn’t tell anyone about the fact my characters talked to me, still. There was something wrong about that, still, to think about. The last thing I needed was for someone to think that I was insane. I got into chatplays though, where creators would talk to characters and characters to other characters and other characters to different creators. It struck me that maybe I wasn’t the only writer dealing with this. It became more normal.
I learned to deal with my characters. How to reason with, bribe, threaten, torture, and reprimand them. But also to let them do their own thing. “Fine, you don’t like where I’m going with this? Then just what do you think should happen, if you’re so smart?”
I’ve gotten so used to it that when my characters obey my every word, I get bored with them. I find them boring, predicable, unlikable. Flat. Less than noteworthy. And this happens every time I plan out a story; my characters are born into a world where they know everything expected of them, and so whatever ideas they might have are suppressed.
Of course, telling any of this to a non-writer is always fun, because they don’t fully understand, and find it a bit off-putting, to say the least.
Sixth grade me might have hated Lysia for giving me lip, but I don’t know where my writing would be without her.