I have an expression for when I’m able to visualize my characters and their stories at their fullest––those times when it feels like I’m not creating so much as witnessing and chronicling their adventures. I call it “being in the pool.”
I use this expression because, for me, the creative process is a lot like looking underwater. From dry land, the depths of the pool look fuzzy and blurred. Clarity only comes when I submerge myself and get below the surface. Even then, the story might be hard to see. Imagine a coral reef thirty feet deep, bursting with sea life. Anyone who has ever gone snorkeling or scuba diving knows you can’t see that depth clearly from the surface (I love scuba btw!). On the other hand, sea life is easy to see when you invert and swim down to the reef. Up close, the vibrant colors and glittering splendor draw you in and make you part of their world.
Sometimes I’m literally in a pool or jacuzzi when I write. Other times I’m on the trail with my dog, Patch. Some of my best writing has happened at the dog park, or while driving to my mother’s place in Rancho Mirage. Right how you’re probably thinking: wait just one minute, you can’t write while driving! While true in a literal sense, I’m really referring to the creative process: the means by which the words come to me. Writing isn’t about being at a keyboard; it’s about occupying the same space as my characters. Once I’m in the pool, I play with them like dolls or action figures, putting them in different settings and seeing how they react. I also get to see the plot grow, develop, and sometimes even change as a result.
In many ways, the characters in my books are like friends: I have to hang out with them in order to really know what’s going on in their lives. When I’m not connecting with them, it’s my fault. I’ve been neglecting them and, just like real friends, they resent me for it and don’t want to share. During those times, I often think of my dog, Patch. Whenever I leave him home alone all day, I have no right to expect him to be playful when I finally walk through the door. Of course, he’s usually thrilled I’m home and eager to play, but sometimes he’s cranky that I was gone for so long (he lets me know this by pointedly ignoring me while he chews a toy).
In those times, I have no right to demand attention. I deserve the cold shoulder treatment. My job is to be patient and give him the affection he deserves until he’s ready to reciprocate. Given time, he always warms up to me. Good characters are the same way: they respond to attention, rewarding you with key insights to their personalities and background.
Some of the best personality quarks of my characters were whispered to me in the stillness of the pool: Simpkins’ and Hayward’s penchant for seventies garb; Willy’s emotional codependency with his ferret, Siphon; the twisted genes that cause Jinx’s abilities to backfire…
Remember that the real goal is to play with your friends, whether they’re furry or fictitious, real or imagined. Give them attention and you’ll be amazed at what you discover.
For anyone interested, my book, Bobby Ether and the Jade Academy, is a young adult adventure story that blends fantasy with new-age fiction (Think Harry Potter meets the Celestine Prophecy). It’s full of excitement, mystery, and just a hint of magic. More information about the book and about me can be found on my website at: http://www.RScottBoyer.com.