The Buffalo News: My View

Kristen Skeet: My characters appear out of the clear blue - 4-17-17

I’m a writer of fiction, and people often ask me where my stories come from. I’d like to be able to give them a concrete answer, but most of the time, I answer honestly: I really have no idea.

It seems odd for a person who creates stories to say she has no idea where her stories come from, but it’s true. I have a vague understanding, I suppose. I know they come from “out there.”

No, not from outer space (although there are certainly many stories out there, to be sure), but out there in the world we live in: The haggard parents with their arms full of crying children in the airport terminal; the woman with the frown at the gas pump next to mine; the guy with a limp and a paper bagged can of beer on the sidewalk outside my office. They all have a story. We all have a story. Every moment in every life is a story waiting to happen.

I’m a naturally curious person (or maybe just nosy) so I pay attention when I’m out in the world. I take what I see while I’m out there and file it away for future use, sometimes just in my mind, sometimes on paper or computer. I will journal about what I’ve seen, or send myself a text message.

Sometimes, I sit down and tap out a draft story right then and there. The characters in these drafts can hardly be called characters; they have no names, no faces and no back story – yet. But they are the foundation for a story to come.

My hard drive is filled with these drafts, and I revisit them from time to time when I’m feeling less than inspired.

My stories also come from one other source: from my characters, themselves, and they come to me out of the clear blue.  Like a blast of frigid air as you step out of your warm house on a cold, January day, sometimes my established characters will pounce on me without warning, demanding my attention.

I’ll share with you what happened recently to better explain this phenomenon. As I was driving the other morning, I saw a tour bus on the road in the opposite lane. I watched it approach and, as it raced by me, I heard in my head, as clear as if it came from someone sitting in the empty passenger seat, “Oh, look who’s A-OK with how she was raised all of a sudden!”

It was the voice of one of my characters from my first novel, “Down Went Alice: The Diary of Alice Moriarty.” The story is about spoiled rock stars, and this was the voice of the exhausted band manager character, teasing one of the other characters for whining about having to take a tour bus instead of a private jet.

I’ve been working on a sequel to this story, and have been struggling with where to take it. The sight of that tour bus roused him, and my muse, out of hibernation. From that one line, out of the clear blue, I went home that day and wrote an entire chapter.

I know my characters far better than I know anybody out in the real world, myself included. And why wouldn’t I? I created them.

And I welcome their input. But it’s a bit distracting, to be honest.

So, the next time you catch me zoning out and staring off into space when we’re together, please don’t be offended. I’ve likely just been visited by a nagging character, and I’m trying to make sense of what he or she has said. I’ll be back with you soon.

Click to read My View editorial: I’m happiest living with the bare essentials