I’ve just realized one of my characters is a lot smarter than I thought.
He wasn’t much at the beginning. Frankly, I created him because the main character was too isolated. I decided that she needed a sidekick. And that’s all this guy was, especially in the early notes before I thought of a name for him: the Sidekick. An aid to the main character in times of distress. Somebody that she can count on, and also someone she can worry about.
But now, as I cross that 20,000 word threshold, I’m starting to think he’s been going behind my back. Reading books. Learning stuff. Making himself more useful. In a couple of scenes, he might turn out to be indispensable*. Maybe he worries that, if he’s not, I’ll murder him George R.R. Martin -style. I still might. But now I’ll feel like I’m killing a real person, not a cardboard stand-in.
We like to say, as writers, that our characters do their own things. They develop on their own. Which is at least half bullshit. Unless you have multiple personalities or a colonizing alien intelligence living in your brain, it’s just you up there, and all you’re hearing are the echoes of your own thoughts coming back from some unimaginable distance.
But, like a lot of things writers lie about, there’s a seed of truth in it. We probably don’t think about the characters. I sure as hell didn’t devote much brain time to the Sidekick. At least not consciously. But the under-brain, the part of my mental equipment that’s absorbed thousands of stories**, knew that he had to be something. So it pushed him out of the darkness under the porch inside my head, and he appeared into the light of conscious thought as if by magic. Then he hung around until I noticed him and stuck him where he needed to be in the story and, just like that, I had my Sidekick. Whose name is Vik, by the way. I didn’t think of that, either. It came with him.
But it wasn’t magic. It was just me.
Now, maybe that makes it less impressive for some of you. You want the magic back. You want the font of unimaginable creativity. But, to me, the idea that all that shit comes from me—and from every writer—only makes it cooler. All that stuff is inside our heads somewhere. There are thousands of characters in the wings of my imagination, just waiting until I need them.
All they need is their moment.
*Really, he should, or he’s just dead weight. But it’s weird to find it happening without planning it.
**The whole time I was writing this, I’m imagining the under-brain to be somewhere in my occipital lobe. Dunno why. It just feels like that’s where the ideas come from.