Tuesday, January 24, 2006

E-Mails From Characters--Part 3

Then came the message from “Alice.”

Saw your e-mail.

This one really got me. It happened so suddenly. Not fifteen seconds had passed since a character in my story had typed an e-mail to Alice. Had “breathed a prayer to any god in the universe” that she would answer. She had to answer—his career depended on it.

And there—at the top of my own inbox—she had.

I gaped at the name. No last name, just Alice.

I didn’t know any Alice.

Besides 99 percent of the time, e-mails arrive with a first and last name. How could this be, that a mere Alice would write?

But of course, it fit. The Alice in my story didn’t use a last name.

This can’t be happening. I glanced furtively around the office, looking for Rod Serling. Waiting for Twilight Zone static to cue.

In Getting Into Character I admit that in times of real life high drama, I split into two people. One is the person caught in my body, reeling with emotion. The other is the Novelist, who floats up to the top of the room like some spirit fascinated by humankind to watch and record. Hm, interesting reactions. I’ll have to remember this.

My body felt the needles. The sense of a trapdoor opening to an unknown world, my neat little package of reality vs. fiction poofing away in smoke. These things I felt, while the Novelist greedily recorded.

This was what I put my suspense characters through every day.

As with Pat’s e-mail, Alice’s, too, I didn’t want to open. I didn’t want to lose that stunning sense of disequilibrium, of feet missing floor. The questions of what would come next, and how would I react? And what would I do?

And so the Novelist observed and noted. In time the notes ran out. Curiosity set in, then took over.

I opened the e-mail.

Had it been the Alice from my book, she would not have been happy. In fact, she’d have come out swinging. Threatening. Yelling. Because she would have been very, very scared.

The Alice in my post did not sound like this.

Quite the opposite. She was friendly. Encouraging. “I saw your e-mail on the loop,” she said, “and just wanted to tell you . . .”

Ah. A writers’ loop. I’d written some message to it. She’d read it and was intrigued. She was reaching out, introducing herself.

The rest of my memory is a blur. I can’t remember the post I originally wrote, or why she was responding. I’m not sure I even took it in as I read her words. My mind still throbbed with the memory of pinpricks and shock . . .

I’ve employed that eldritch moment numerous times in my writing. It’s become one of those rich bits of emotion memory—the anxiety and disquiet, the sense of estrangement from reality. And to think it all took place in such an otherwise quiet space of time. By myself. No dialogue. Little movement. Just sitting in front of my computer—reacting to an unexpected sight.

You never know where glowing pieces of emotion memory will come from. They are invaluable in writing. Soak them in, live the moment, record, record. Even now what I remember most of “Alice’s e-mail” is not the events, not the outcome. It’s my emotion in those interim moments.

Immersed in their richness, I can almost believe character Alice did e-mail me.


Jennifer Tiszai said...

Oh it's so nice to know I'm not alone in recalling emotions of events rather than the events themselves. I particularly remember being in a discussion with someone I thought was being obtuse and thinking, "Wow, I'm going to use this in a book. This is exactly how someone acts when they are trying to perpetuate conflict." I have no idea what the discussion was about, but I clearly remember soaking up every bit of feeling during it.

Pammer said...

Feeling is what I record too. I still have a bit of trouble getting that onto the page, however. Any tips?