Hey, writer-person! Yoohoo! Yeah, that’s right. It’s me. Your character! Okay, I know I annoyed you at dinner last night and everyone was whining about how distracted you were. True, “She twirls her hair incessantly,” is not an appropriate response to “Pass the okra, please.” And that dream was meant to be informative. It’s not my fault you had to wake up, and write down every detail of the affair with my sleazy landlord, or else you’d forget the part about the mural I painted on my bedroom wall. Fine. I’m a pest. But you invented me! So basically, your sleep deprivation and lack of social skills are your own fault.
How did I come to life again? Was it the sound of that woman’s voice in line at the bank? Or the attitude of that lady buying a cup of coffee at Wawa? Maybe it was that fuzzy picture your friend posted on facebook. Oh, wait! I remember. The girl crying into her cell phone, walking in circles near the paddle ball courts. But that was just the spark. You had to get to know me.
Some of those questions you asked were freakin’ hard! I mean you started off easy, and I was cool with that: what’s your name, where do you live, what’s your job, are you married and blah blah. Then you come out with, “Are you fat?” That’s when I started to get a little leery. You wanted to know if I think I’m hot. Say what? What’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done? Do I believe in an afterlife? What’s my biggest regret? What have I never told another living soul? If I saw someone beating on a dog, what would I do? Sheesh! Then out of nowhere you throw in, “Do you snore?” What color is my bathroom? Do I balance my checkbook? What’s my favorite scent?
I know not all that stuff will make it into the story, but I have to admit, I felt much fuller, more real after I told you. And I’ll have plenty more to reveal as your story builds. You just gotta listen! Even the way I’m talking right now, tells you about my personality, maybe even where I’m from and the type of upbringing I had.
Now, about that story…I know we’re talking about me, the star, your protagonist in this case, but something has to happen to get people to care about me. You have to let me help you. That’s right, I, your character, born of your imagination, can help you. If I say the story needs to go in this direction, and you’re stuck in your brain, getting’ all pig-headed like, I’m the almighty writer, it’s my story, what I say goes—it’s gonna flop. It’s gonna feel forced. Trust me. I know this art teacher character whose writer (I’m not mentioning any names!) was so stubborn, the poor art teacher started reciting trite dialogue, and couldn’t move on. Know where that character is now? Languishing in some folder on the writer’s computer desktop, inches away from the recycle icon! Do not leave your characters inches from your recycle icon! Put your ego aside and hear what they have to say!
Improvisers have a rule when they perform: make your partner look good. I’m your partner. Make me look good and I’ll make you look good. That doesn’t mean I don’t have flaws. You know what they are! It means cut me some slack. Let me develop organically. Sometimes I’ll surprise you. Let the story go to the places you don’t expect. And as much as I hate this part, you have to get me into trouble, again and again. Raise the stakes, so I have obstacles to overcome, some great decision to make. That’s my job. Let me be brilliant, or brave or foolish or compassionate, and maybe when this story of yours is all revised and revised then revised one more time, I’ll let you get a good night’s sleep—at least until the next character comes along.