I’ve mentioned before about stories in my head, and my characters, and I thought maybe I’d explain what I mean by all this since I’m guessing it’s not something everyone does? Unless it is, in which case cool – tell me about your stories and characters!
Basically, as far back as I can remember, I have role-played using an internal monologue. I reckon it’s something kids do all the time, I just never grew out of it! Maybe it came from having something of a solitary childhood – not that I was physically lonely; I had two brothers and plenty of friends and loads of cousins; but I took myself away from all that quite regularly and have always enjoyed my own company. Be it climbing a tree by myself at the bottom of the garden and pretending I was a squirrel, or cycling for ages by myself just to feel the joy of escapism and go and sit by myself on a windy spot and draw what I found there with a cheap sketchpad and a few old pencils. It was during these isolated times I really got into my internal story-telling. I’d invent characters whom I would pretend to be. Often they were animals, or anthropomorphic animals, or vaguely humanoid. Story-telling using these characters became something I would do occupy my time; when I was cycling, being driven, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, laying in the bath… but I’d also seek out the opportunity to create stories. I’d role-play that I was an otter diving for treasure when I was at the swimming pool, when my friends and brothers were happily playing on the inflatables. I’d start daydreaming in school assemblies, or during my break-times, or anytime my brain wasn’t specifically engaged with another task.
I started drawing my characters from the age of about 10 I guess. I’d give them names and details, decide what their hair was like, what food they ate, what they wore, who their family was. The stories got more involved and longer. There was ongoing plot for many of them. By the time I was in secondary school there was full-on world creation. I’d started writing some stories, created fables and religions and climate and terrain. I’d collected half a dozen or more separate characters in their own timelines and worlds. They didn’t interact; each one had a separate ongoing adventure. Often the adventure was really simple; character goes to school, character comes home, character eats dinner, character does homework and goes to bed. But the whole time I was pretending I was someone Not Me. I was doing all those things as a sentient cat, or a ghost girl, or an aquatic girl disguised as a normal human.
It was, and still is, wonderful meditation. The time I do my stories most is the 20 minutes or so before I fall asleep. I imagine I’m in a cave bed, or under the sea, or on an airship. The small sounds I can hear all add to my story. That’s not the hot water tank, it’s an engine rumbling below me. The wind is actually blowing snow through the mountains outside my door. Birdsong belongs to the tropical menagerie in the tall swaying trees that border the palace.
And the characters that I have now are different to the ones I had as a kid. They’re older, more experienced. They have families and relationships. They still have adventures, but sometimes the adventures are wilder and more dangerous than a day at school. Sometimes their adventures just involve foraging for food for their family, or travelling to a new place, but often they involve shipwreck or isolation or mountain climbing or trips on the back of a huge dragon. Some of the characters have been with me since I was 10, some are new. Very rarely a new one pops on the scene, and sometimes they stay but often they don’t last. It all depends how much my brain wants to engage with them.
As you can imagine, they pretty much have a life of their own. I don’t think of them in terms of ownership; they are friends, and they are a part of me. A lot of what has happened to them is very personal, sometimes because it reflects something that has happened in the real world, or because the event in question has had a big impact on the character themselves.
I would LOVE to get their stories down on paper. In a perfect world I’d make a graphic novel, because drawing them is something I dream of doing. But as you can imagine having such a long relationship with someone who doesn’t really exist means it’s very hard to properly do justice to a story or a picture on paper. I’d get the details wrong, or the story wouldn’t come across correctly, or it would just not be ‘right’ in some way. I guess this is how all artists feel – trying to do justice to the picture in your head, and learning to accept that it might not be perfect and that’s okay. Or letting go of the ideal and allowing the final product to be different and accepting that as part of the character’s growth and development. I have started trying to draw my characters a bit more – I’m re-learning to draw digitally, trying to remember how humans work (years ago I drew a lot as part of an art exchange community, but I haven’t done anything seriously for probably 6 or more years). I’m very cagey about showing off my art, especially since I’m very self-critical and aware there are a lot of faults with what I’m drawing as I re-learn anatomy, movement, digital art, colour, lighting, etc etc. I’ll have to let go of that fear, as well! The fear of showing off my work. Maybe when I finally start being proud of what I’m drawing…
Maybe one day I’ll write their tales down. If not to publish, then just to immortalise. I would be good to know that their lives and their adventures – however short – can keep going.