Too involved with my characters?

Several weeks ago, I had a great meeting with Amy Scott Robinson of Kevin Mayhew Publisher, to discuss my next book, now renamed ‘The Dangerous Dance of Emma JJ’. Over coffee and cake, we talked at length and wondered whether it could be two books, so I’ve been working away at trying that out and writing a new ending to book one. 

But, Amy suggested that a particular thing should happen to my protagonist in the second proposed book.. This would be something earth-shatteringly awful. It is exactly what should happen in a sequel but it is so devastating that, although I agreed at the time, I wasn’t at all sure about it.

I came away from that meeting excited, after all this could lead to a two-book contract, but also unaccountably sad. My fictional character is a looked-after child who has had an awful life. Dangerous Dance follows her as she tries to find out about her family, develops her love of dancing and explores who she really is and what she believes. There are threats to her health and challenges along the way but the story ends on a highly positive note.

Notice my use of words there - she’s a fictional character and it’s a story.

So why do I feel so dreadful? Why do I think that I am about to do something unforgivably dreadful to this sixteen-year old? Why do I feel so upset for her?

I have plainly crossed the line here and become so emotionally involved with Em that I can only see her as real. That may be because I love writing in the first person, so the whole of Dangerous Dance is written in her voice and I have had to be her to write the story. She is a character I have written about before when I wrote Losing Face, when both girls in the story were written in the first person, so I have ‘known’ her for a long time.

But if anyone reading this is a first-person-fiction writer, I need to know something. Is identifying with one’s characters this strongly an essential element to faithfully portray emotions, thoughts and feelings so that the reader finds the character is real?

Even if it is, I think there is no denying that I am really a 16-year old in a rather ancient body and I will have to try to stand back a bit to be able to go through the perilous plight of Emma JJ with her.

Postscript:

Today, as I review the above ready for an early morning posting, I have had a mind-blowing thought. If writing a story about a fictional character can bring up such emotions in an ordinary human like me, then what does our mighty God feel for real, for us, as we go through tragedy and disasters? 

He never stands back. He weeps with us and carries us through.



Annie Try is a retired Clinical Psychologist who has written The Dr Mike Lewis stories published by Instant Apostle. Her latest book, mainly for young adults, will be published by Kevin Mayhew Publisher in November 2022

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