The life of a character
A few weeks before Paul died I began the outline of a book. I was excited about it; Paul was excited about it. He was, after all, the inspiration for the story’s hero. But after he died I realised that I couldn’t write the book as planned. The central story was still there, but the characters would have to change—as would the path that would lead them to the end of the book.
A few weeks after Paul died I found the inspiration for my new character; my new leading man. The character inspired by Paul would still be there, but this new man would be a key character, playing opposite the story’s leading lady.
Over the months to follow I learned more and more about my inspiration and I found that the more I learned the more complex the fictional character* became. In fact, the more I learned the more I wanted to make the guy into a real baddy—but a baddy with a certain softness to him; a baddy with the potential for good.
The outline for the book is fairly complete, but as it stands now there are three possible endings. There’s the ending where they both live happily ever after (barf!); there’s the ending where they both die; and there’s the ending where one of them lives—with the survivor left to deal with various emotions, that could lead to a potential follow-up book.
I’ve been working away at the actual writing for a little over two years now**, but each time I get to a point where I think I know what I’m doing, it seems that I have an encounter with the male character’s real-life inspiration. And those encounters sometimes make me think of another way to tell the story—and they make me get a bit wishy-washy on the ending.
It’s funny though because if I’ve had a positive encounter with my inspiration, I start to lean more toward letting the character die. If I’ve had a negative encounter with my inspiration, I want this character to live. Part of me wonders if my desire for the character’s life or death is down to my fractious relationship with the real guy. It’s as if I’m taking out my emotions on paper. But I don’t really feel like I am.
I think the bigger part of me wonders about how the endings will be perceived by people who’ve dealt with the real-life situation the book will portray. I wonder if my ending choices will hurt campaigns for certain social and medical issues, or if they’d just be another work of fiction that no one even gives a second thought to. (I mean, when and if this book gets finished, I highly doubt the readership will extend past my Mum and a few self-sacrificing friends!)
Sometimes, I want to talk to the real-life inspiration to get his input because I think he’d have some great insight. But then I worry that he’ll want to change the fictional character to be less of a baddy. And then the story wouldn’t work.
Anyhow, I think it’s time I decide once and for all how this book will end. After all, it’s only a book and he’s only a fictional character; it’s not real-life.
* The fictional character is nothing like the real person and the book is not based on real-life events.
** I know! Two years is a long time. But I’ve been writing it in between doing my master’s dissertation and PhD applications. And now the poor thing will have to get sorted in between my doctoral research. I must carve out time each week to dedicate to this book!