Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fictional Heart Strings by Michael Davis

Fictional Heart strings

I was having a cup a coffee the other day when a female friend ventured by, tapped me on the shoulder, and continued to the counter to get her own mug of brew. For simplicity, let’s call her Joy. On her return passage by my table, Joy seat down across from me, and began to chat. I love it when my local friends and acquaintances offer idle chit chat. Joy is a sweet but mysterious young lady. She coveys a unique reflection about life and all its complexities. Behind those green eyes resides a spark and compassion that is missing in many of today’s lost souls. Finally she came to a topic we often discuss, my books. You see, she loves to read my stories. I’m not sure whether it’s because she really likes them or because I’m the only author she knows.

Anyway, she began to ask about a character in a particular story (TAINTED HERO) and discuss how touched she was at what happened to this particular person. Then she caught me off guard with the question, “Isn’t it hard to do that?” I smiled with pride, “A little.” Joy continued. “I thought so. I’m not sure I could do that. I thing I’d be crying over the keyboard.” Then I realized the insight of this young women’s inquiry. She wasn’t asking about the creativity process; she was probing into the nature of people to empathize with the plight of others, even if they were some fictional character that was conjured from their own mind. And she was right. I remembered back to when I struggled with that particular scene. I was moved, not to tears, but my throat actually tightened and I wanted to reach through the screen and help the character, and especially to strangle the villain. I was so moved, I actually changed the outcome. In my original outline the female character died, but I was so struck by her and all she had gone through, I couldn’t deal with losing her. She still suffered, but she survived.

Then I realized I had experienced this same heartstring relationship with fictional characters in all my stories. I guess they became so real I empathized with their plight. I know it sounds weird to be moved by a scene evolving out of your own head, but I really do. Some stories more then others, but always to some degree. Maybe that’s why I enjoy that first breath of the story when I initially create the scenes, and see it happening for the first time. I remember in one story (Shadow of Guilt) I was moved to such a degree, I literally had to stop and go outside to split some wood and relieve my anguish. The character was suffering so deeply, her path in life so sad, I couldn’t stand it.

I know that’s strange, especially for a big guy, and I’m not a wussy, but don’t most of us choke up when we see another human suffering. In this case I hated the outcome of the story, but I couldn’t change it. It was what the novel was all about. Without her history, what this poor girl experienced, you had no Shadow of Guilt.
I’m curious if other authors encounter this same heartstring response when their fictional characters undergo pain and sorrow. Or maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I need to get some testosterone injections to reaffirm my guyhood. My wife always did say I was too emotional (g).

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