Are you for reel?
I woke early this morning with an uncontrollable urge to go fly fishing. (does that ever happen to you?) Perhaps my desire was feed by the endless days of clear skies, brisk mornings, and the warm afternoon breezes that send the colored leaves blowing about. But no matter the reason, the pull to be outside, to hear the rush of a running stream, breath in the scent of eucalyptus and pine, and emerge myself in the solitude of the dense forest, overwhelmed me.
I’m a wader.(vs. a floater, I’ve never actually casted off a boat) Big, baggy waterproof pants with Paul Bunyan-type suspenders give me the gumption, the protection to traverse the raging current. (Before I get too carried away impressing you with my ability to tackle the rugged outdoors, let me come clean. It’s not just the waders that allow me to stand in the freezing stream–it’s the long underwear, fleece pants, gloves, flapped cap and toe warmers–just so you know)
So how is a fly girl who is land-locked in Tulsa, OK going to scratch this fish-itch? (okay, yes, you’re right, I could sit down and tie my own flies) But come on now, I’m still working tirelessly, polishing the final edits on my book.
Hum, my book. Interesting…
I paused and thought for a tick.
As you know, I’ve been focusing on my characters, digging deep into their psyches. Attempting to peel back all the outside layers and uncover the true nature of their wants, wills, and desires. (Wait, was that a giggle? I hear what you’re thinking. I wrote them, so you’d think I would be in the know. But characters are complicated, just like you and I. And we all know how well we understand our own feelings, right?
After some more digging, I realized the parallel. Tana, Rex and Jack are all based on people I’ve met, worked with, flown with. Funny thing about people. When you meet them, they aren’t inclined to reveal any of their secrets. As a matter of fact, many times, they share the part of themselves that they think will impress you or make you comfortable. The outer layer.
As time goes on, they may be willing to take a leap of faith and tell you some of their secrets, their dreams and agendas. The middle layer.
But it’s rare, I think, to find another human being who will strip back the final few layers and show you their core. (if I counted the ones I’ve met in my time, I’d only need a few fingers on one hand.)
Well, it’s the same process with characters. You start with a detailed outline of their personality. Fill in how they look, their likes and dislikes, what drives them as a person. Then you write them, introduce yourself and get to know them.(like a first date.)
After some time (for me, a lot of time) you work with the characters and send them on their journey, weave them into your story. They become part of your life. Not a day goes by that you don’t think of them, what they might do or say–you get to know them better. Naturally, you want more. More insight, more connection, you want them to be real. Maybe like in our relationships with friends and family that we hold close in our inner circles.
Now this type of intimacy takes guts. And make no mistake, it doesn’t matter that the characters aren’t real. When I write them, I feel the same desire to protect them as I do when I’m considering letting someone in to see my center, the fruits of my labor.
My mind flashed to the Colorado River. I’m standing thigh-high in an eddy, carefully dragging my line across the surface. As I flick the fly, I’m careful to hold completely still and scan the crystal water for a school of fish. In that moment, I feel real, connected, exposed.
The vision vanished, but the feeling was left behind, swirling in my chest. I stared at my computer and examined the words describing my characters. My instincts were right on. My characters were begging to be peeled and written from the inside out–delighted, terrified, happy, flawed.
In order to have the courage to write them that way, I was driven to connect to the essence of the planet, the most basic truth.
A pole, a river and the promise of endless fish.