I’ve been sitting in the same corner of the same coffee shop staring at the same page for hours now. I’ve reached the dregs of my coffee (and swallowed them too for good measure). I’ve started to massage my neck, praying my back won’t kill me later (though I know it will). The page is still blank.
It takes me a minute to notice he’s standing there. He’s striking, but he has a goofy grin – and he’s awkwardly staring at me. I look around, but no one else seems to notice he’s there.
“Can I help you?”
“Just stopped by to talk with you.” He sits down across from me.
I raise my eyebrows and point to my nose.
He nods, and lifts my coffee cup. “You had to drink it all,” he says on a heavy sigh. Then he extends his hand to me.
Reluctantly, I take it and shake. Then he starts to talk. And he talks.
He tells me where he was born, how many siblings he has, how he grew up, why he enlisted, his deepest fears, his first love, his longest love, his path of self-discovery, and his newest love. Then, after a deep breath, what he will be, where he will be, who he will be with, and why.
I nod, my eyebrows creased, still reeling from the fact that this radiant, golden stranger is talking to me at all.
But someone clears their throat next to me, and I don’t have time to process before I am thrown into confusion again. She smiles brightly, runs a hand through a messy mane of hair, pushes into the booth beside me, and speaks as if we’re old friends.
She keeps asking me about moments as if I remember them… As if I was there with her. And oddly enough, I find I do remember them. And vividly. All of her moments: the joyous, the fun, the hilarious, the heart-breaking, and the tragic. Right up until her death.
“It was fairly gory,” she says matter-of-factly. And I blink, startled, because at first I think she can’t be serious. But then I remember it. Vividly. And I’m glad I’d already finished my coffee, because my stomach is so knotted at the thought that I think I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore.
But I don’t even have time to dwell on it before two more people show up. A boy and a girl. He is a simmering fire, and she is as relaxed as the breeze. Still, his arm is slung protectively around her. She’s confident, but I can tell in an instant that she is genuine and kind. She is someone I would aspire to be.
They’ve been through more than I ever have. Their stories soar and then plummet through successes and then new trials. And they all treat me like I’m worth something more than a blank page. And the constant confusion I’ve had since the golden man first approached me starts to clear enough for me to find my words.
At the next pause in their steady recollections, I break in, “And what did you say your names were?”
The first stranger nods at my computer, drawing my eyes back down to the forgotten screen. There are words on the page. Their names, their histories, their loves, their deaths – their stories. My story.
A few weeks ago, someone posted in our writers group on Facebook asking about how characters work, everyone’s process for creating them. Or meeting them, as it were. I tried to write it out in a paragraph, I really did. But this happened instead.
And I should also probably say it wasn’t always like this. I used to do 50 page long character sheets, asking questions – trying to figure out how they fit into the world, into the story. I wanted them to be different and unique, and creating them didn’t come naturally. And in all honesty, I have no clue why it changed.
But one day, I woke up from a dream, and my head was a lot more crowded. They’ve been the most talkative cast of characters I’ve ever met. And they just keep coming. (I just met a whole other group of people in this universe, and they’re being just as nosy and invasive as everyone else in this world.) But everyone’s process is different, and frankly the assertiveness of these characters still confuses me, because I don’t quite get how it works.
But I’m grateful for them, however confusing their creation and existence might be. Hopefully I can pay them back by making sure their story is told.