Bad-Ass Characters

I only write about bad-ass characters. My characters always say what I couldn’t have said in that situation (and luckily, I also get to make up the situations in which their bad-assness can be best exposed).

For example, I have really tall characters. My shorter characters are pixie-like, or children. My characters are beautiful, with the faults beautiful people have: a mole (beauty mark) here, and maybe their eyes are too green. I know it isn’t right to picture only beautiful people. But what if I want my movie to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster? What if I want to have crushes on all my characters?

My characters all speak with concise wit. I try to make the bad ones speak a little less concisely, a little less witty. Maybe they swear once. Maybe they say something inappropriate to the moment. But still: bad-asses, all of them.

I here present a problem: reality. How far from it can I get? I understand that dialogue shouldn’t mimic speech exactly. I understand that characters shouldn’t go to the bathroom within my book. I understand that time needs to jump and place needs to shift and events need to be extraordinary and my protagonist needs to be put down consistently so he can rise up triumphantly, but how far can this book get from reality?

Like, can all my characters be bad-asses?

I ask this question with the presumption that we all want to be bad-asses. And I’m sure we don’t. Some of us want to be boring. But when I’m allowed to dream (which I am every night, and since I’ve started writing, every day too) I dream big. I become big.

I become too big for the scope of a regular me. I need to be a stronger me, a taller me, a more tragic me. And that’s where my characters come in. They are all facets of my ideal me.

What if I had been adopted by parents who never really loved me (not in the way I think parents should) and I had only become more loving and stronger from it?

What if I had grown up in Nova Scotia, dreaming of the Westcoast, and when I came here I realized I had lost myself?

What if I had dropped out of high school and driven across Canada?

What if I had to make the choice between two men who loved me?

I love empathizing with these people I have created, stretching the nuggets of my emotions to places they haven’t been but have dreamt of. I love that, building characters out of me.



P.S. doesn’t exist anymore. Now we can always scroll back and fit in what we wanted to say. Nothing has to come post script anymore. But I miss P.S.

I miss making mistakes and having to cross them out or leave dark marks from bad erasers. I knew the function of P.S. for only a short amount of time in my life, when I still exchanged hand-written letters with the fellow neighbourhood spies of my childhood. Even for the small amount of time I needed it, P.S. still meant a lot to me.

P.S. meant I could say more than I first thought I needed to. P.S. meant I could tell you anything. P.S. meant I could make a mistake and amend it and not be ashamed. It meant I could tell you I loved you, I could tell you a joke, I could tell you a small anecdote that didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of my letter to you.

Now computers have obliterated the function of P.S. Still, we cling to its value. We often leave post-scripts in emails; we make movies about letter exchanges with voice-overs that read obligatory “P.S.” messages after the signature. We have equivocated P.S. with a nostalgia for the medium from which it came: letters.

I have been writing a letter to my friend Natasha for two months. I place it on my bed each day so it is in a central area where I am bound to take notice of it and complete it. I can’t. I can’t write a letter anymore.

I imagine Natasha wrote to me from a park bench looking out over summer in Edmonton. I can’t write back because though I want to, I think only that I could get my message out so much faster in an email. I think only that the letter I started two months ago is now old, that it no longer says what I need it to say. If I were to join my letter again, take it by the hand and complete it, my letter would be a letter of post scripts.

P.S. This is no longer the letter I wanted.

P.S. I have so much more to tell you.

P.S. Somewhere between your last letter and this letter that never got sent, you got married! (P.S. Congratulations, Natasha!!)

I have lost the ability to write straight through, to write a letter to the fellow spies in my neighbourhood and not second guess myself. I no longer have the fail safe of the final P.S. I think writing on a computer has changed the type of writer I might have been by hand.  At least I’m certain this is the case with letters. What a letter writer I might have been. I might have written letters every day. I might have had a correspondence with someone.

What is this nostalgia I’m feeling? I feel it in me, a grasping at the written word that I can only express by typing quickly from my nails onto this computer. I’ve changed, but I want to go back – back to a place I never knew, where post script was not a Latin word but a tool I used to tell you I don’t want to be done this letter, that I have something else to say.

What If I Hadn’t Written

If I hadn’t written today, I would not have realized something about my two main characters because I wouldn’t have written the paragraph that told me it. If I had written yesterday, where might my story have gone?

I think it’s inevitable that every moment contains the potential for a different piece of writing. I wouldn’t have written this blog post this morning, or later this evening. I’m writing it now in a hammock, and salsa music is playing in the distance, and I just took my nail polish off. I am in a moment; so is my paragraph.

Is this why people decide to write in a routine? Do some people choose to write in the mornings because the book they are writing needs mornings? They’re writing a morning book? Is this what we decide, without realizing we’re deciding it?

My blog posts are created in moments. I don’t plan what to write before I write; I write. I use semi-colons because I feel balanced! If I planned ahead of time, then I would create a strange dissonance between the part of me that wanted to write such a thing twenty minutes ago and the part of me that wants to write the moment down.

I love the fact that I didn’t run into you on the street corner today but I met you at a party four years ago. I love that. I love circumstance and chance and coincidence. So why not apply the same concept to my writing?

That being said, my editing comes from a place of consistency. It must be on its game (its same game) this morning and tonight and if I’m editing over lunch. But when that place is shut down, when I am writing to create, my typing fingers live completely in the moment. What if I hadn’t written today? I would have missed something big. What if I don’t write tomorrow?

This is how vows to write every day and every moment are created. I will depend instead on coincidence. I write in the moments that I need to. I will rely on that.

Accomplish One Thing

Then you can leave your seat, or you can lean back on your chair, not forward.

Then you can do some real work, some work you need to do to get paid.

Then you can go outside and see the sun and see the moon.

Then you can go to yoga, to de-stress from having accomplished one thing today.

Then you can read a book and not think it must have been impossible to write.

Then you can be a good person to those around you, patient and still.

Then you can scratch those mosquito bites – only then can you scratch them!

Then you can go and do other things and mull over your story in the back of your mind.

Then you can go and make suggestions to yourself in your diary, small suggestions only.

Then, and only then, only once you accomplish just one thing, can you go to sleep, go to life, go to work. Just one thing. One little thing.


In my latest draft I have been writing SECRETS to myself in CAPS LOCK. They are lazy secrets, codes to be filled in later. For example:
“Jillian was the last to sit down on the picnic blanket. SETTING. She raised her head slowly to look at Mea, who was pouring maple syrup on everyone’s pancakes but her own.”

Of course I don’t have time to describe the setting. I’m writing a story here.

This is the current stage of editing I’m in. It’s called CAPS LOCK editing. It involves combing through with a pretty wide tooth comb with the intention of making the plot of my book make sense. Action must be motivated by a previous action. Everyone must want something. Everything must involve tension and suspense. Show things, stop whining about them.

Because I’m focused on plot, I brush over spelling mistakes and blaring inconsistencies in people’s occupations and appearances because if I worry about that now then my plot might fall apart again. It’s being held together by fine lines of bossy CAPS LOCK.

For example, following the previous segment where Mea pours syrup on pancakes, I write: WHAT HAPPENS AT BREAKFAST IS VERY SIGNIFICANT

If, in another chapter, Nye shouldn’t have done something right then, I say NOT WHAT NYE WOULD DO.

And when it isn’t clear why Jillian doesn’t want to go to Cape Breton, I say WHY DOESN’T JILLIAN WANT TO GO TO CAPE BRETON? And I try, not very hard, to answer it in further lines of Caps Lock. Sometimes I go for a run and think about it (really I did that for the first time today).

I hope I will return to the beginning of my story once I am done this draft with a lot of energy to integrate these frightening notes and questions into my story (in minuscule letters). And hopefully the plot will be ready for it. Once I have my plot all rehashed and ready to go, then I am pretty sure the nuances of the significance of the breakfast picnic, what the scenery looked like and whether Nye was a computer software programmer or an artist will be clear.

Then it will be time to just add in cute details and make my writing readable. And then do another draft where the details are more than cute, they’re sophisticated, and the writing is actually good. And then one more draft, where angels falls from the sky to write on my behalf.

From My Heart (and Dreams)

I try to write from somewhere near the inside of me, so that the words that come out don’t feel like you could have written them, and so that they feel true. I don’t know where that place is, but I assume it’s the same spot other people take their writing from when they say they’re writing from the heart. Also, I take my writing from my dreams.

There’s a book I tried to really like but don’t know that I really liked called From Where You Dream. Something I took from it (maybe I just read the title) was that you should write from that liberated, unconscious part inside of you – the place from where you dream. Simple? There’s a whole book about it.

Now, last night I dreamt of my book, and not in a good way. In my dream I was sitting at my computer and I read through a paragraph I had written. As I read it I realized I had just written things like “She walked into a room. She walked across the room. She spoke to Bill.” I don’t know what I had actually written, I don’t remember the dream exactly, but I remember reading this paragraph I had written and thinking it was so empty. In my dream I discovered this big game changer: I was writing empty sentences and I was supposed to be writing full sentences!

And in my dream I had a great understanding of what that meant, a full sentence. That’s the beauty of dreams (my dreams at least) is that I understand things – emotions and events and the significance of things – without having to spell it out, without having to put it into words.

I don’t know that I fixed my paragraph in my dreams, but I sure sat down at my computer today and thought about empty and full. I translated it to my waking self as the idea of images. Is there one? I translated it to the idea of heart. Is there one?

Because there are other priorities for my book right now – for example, make the plot make sense – I didn’t start back at sentence one and ask myself these obscure questions. But I had it in mind as I rewrote through the part I did today. I kept thinking, where is Jillian’s heart, and how do I get deeper into it? The more I did that, the more I found images. The more I saw Jillian’s face and was able to show it. The more I saw how Jillian touched her boyfriend’s hand, the more I saw the way she spoke to her sister. I didn’t find Jillian’s heart today (she’s not real), but I wrote from it. I wrote full and I wrote hearty.  Thanks crazy dream!