by Glynn Young
Something strange happened to me as I was writing my third novel, Dancing King. I fell in love with one of the characters.
Perhaps “fell in love” is too strong. “Became fascinated with” might be more apt. It was a character who came seemingly out of nowhere, a minor character, in fact, one whose presence wasn’t crucial to the story.
The character was born out of the need to plug a hole. The main characters were trying to fill a position and not having much success. Their problem was actually the author’s fault – it was the author who wasn’t having much success figuring out what to do.
The problem didn’t solve itself; I had planned on this minor character, but it was going to be a tiny, short-lived role, unrelated to the unfilled position. And then, for his short scene, he wouldn’t leave the page. The words kept tumbling out. A personality emerged. A history emerged. The character became something far more than the planned flash in the pan.
I would like to say the author solved his problem. Actually, it was the character who solved it.
He walked with a limp, the result of a serious war injury. He had lost most of his left leg when a road mine exploded. Most of his squad had been killed. He had returned home to recover, but his wife couldn’t deal with his injuries. His life began to spiral downward. He had started drinking and then doing drugs.
He soon found himself divorced, homeless, and living in a squat with other vagrants. Friends had found him and got him into a military hospital. Withdrawal had been awful. but he had beaten it. And then someone had come along and offered him a job, essentially serving as a butler. He had gotten his life back together, when his employer was killed. His future had clouded but he was resolute – he wasn’t going back to where he’d been.
I became fascinated with this character. I don’t think I can explain where he came from. But he grew from “someone who answered the door” to a much more important place in the story. He did indeed answer the door. And once he did, he did more than just stand there and say hello.
I can explain what happened, but only after the fact. This was a man who had experienced serious injury, nearly died, and lost everything. And yet someone had intervened, saw the man’s inherent value, and acted to help him redeem his life.
I couldn’t see this as the character became alive on the page. He didn’t take on a life of his own; it was more like the man’s story suddenly crystallized and began to become real, at least in my mind. I found myself liking him. I liked his calm demeanor. I liked the fact he had understood what had happened to him, and he knew he couldn’t let it happen again.
It was the suddenness that was surprising. Most of the other characters in the story, including many of the minor ones, had taken months to develop. This one had emerged fully formed on the page.
I’ve asked other writers if this has happened to them. The general experience has been certain aspects or actions might emerge well formed, but it seems rare to have a complete character happen so quickly.
Has this happened to you? And have you fallen in love, or at least become fascinated with, a character who’s seemingly leaped into existence?
Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter and communications executive. He’s the author of three novels, Dancing Priest, A Light Shining, and Dancing King, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. Visit Glynn at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, his blog, the Dancing Priest book page, and his business web site.