Friday, 17 September 2010

Old Friends

We all try to recognise rejections as opportunities for a different market and many of us discover that a story succeeds after a couple or more attempts to find its true home. However, I still have lots of stories that may never be read by anyone. They've been sent to all the obvious places and turned away. I can bear them in mind for competitions, but they clearly need some further work, or even stripping down to the core and rewritten.

However, it has occurred to me during an idle moment or two, that I want to keep some of the characters, even if I discard their story. Most of my stories are character-led and I have become attached to them. In fact, 99% of my social life revolves around fictional friends. This is actually true. I have few friends in reality. I am terrified of friendships. If I make a friend who seems to like me and becomes keen to meet up frequently, I feel trapped and make excuses not to see them. It's lucky I like my own company, or I don't know what would become of me.

But my thought was really about characters. I think I should keep a list of them all, so that I can be reunited with them in the future, even if I have decided not to use their story. There are one or two who keep haunting me and I can't always recall the title of the story in which they featured.

I made a lovely man called Johnny Carpenter. He is aloof, but charming and irresistible. He is tough, but has a vulnerable side. Sadly, I killed him in a shock ending. But that doesn't stop me from summoning him back to life. That's the other advantage of fictional people. You can make them appear wherever you want and do whatever you tell them, whenever you feel like.

Maybe I'm a secret control freak? In real life, I find it hard to say no. I'm one of the least assertive people in the universe and my husband calls me a soft target. But, when I'm writing, I can bend and shape people to my heart's content. It's probably the perfect antidote to real-life for me!

I think virtual friends are perfect. We can drop in and out of each others' lives, or segments of our lives, at times to suit ourselves. We can think about responses and never have to be put on the spot. I once had a friend who would arrive at my home unannounced and ask what I was doing on a certain day. Thinking she was going to suggest a nice outing, I would say I was free. Then she would ask me to babysit her children for her. She got me every time! I'm hopeless when I'm caught unaware. I always say yes before I know what I'm being asked!

I wondered, before I began rambling, whether other writers keep a list of favourite characters and allow them to see the light of day on more than one occasion? Or does each new story need a completely fresh viewpoint? Sometimes I like a character so much, I can't bear to let them go and actually miss them when the story ends.


  1. Oh Joanna you sound so like me! I have a small number of friends who are hugely important to me, but I never like to feel over committed. Even when new social opportunities do come along I often tend to make excuses. I was an only child so I too am happy in my own company much of the time.

    I hope you find a home for Johnny Carpenter. I do grow fond of certain characters, and if their particular story is rejected I will go on and on trying to get it into print, with however many rewrites it takes.

    This week I received the 2010 Bristol anthology and am working my way through. Another imaginative story from you, with lovely touches of humour.

  2. Thank you so much Joanne. I think we have a lot in common! It was so good to know you keep persevering with stories you believe in. I think I may sometimes give up too easily. I shall definitely try harder with rewrites. I think I could also learn why they were rejected if I work on them to a greater depth than I currently do. Thank you! And I'm really pleased you like the Bristol story!

  3. I'm like that with friends too - I don't like people popping in on spec at all and if 'new' friends get too eager I feel terribly trapped. (I'm one of those people who hides behind the sofa and pretends I'm out.)
    Virtual friends are lovely, though, expecially as you can chat to them without having to vacuum first. Though my house is always spotless, of course.
    The only characters I miss are the ones in my novel - I felt awful putting them in the drawer as it was like burying them alive, but I have to admit it is probably where they belong given their current setting. Maybe I should think about reviving them and giving them a new book to live in.

  4. I like your idea of keeping a list of characters. To date, I have created new characters for every story; but thinking about it, they could make an appearance in a different setting for another story.
    Thank you!

  5. This is a fascinating post and I'm going to add myself to the list of people who don't like friends dropping by unannounced - or being too needy.

    I do have favourite characters and often just change the name if I want to pop them into a different story.


  6. Thank you everyone. I'm pleased I'm not the only one to hide behind sofas!

  7. I re-use characters too. After you've spent all that time with them, it's hard to let them go, isn't it?