Before I had any children, I knew exactly how they would behave, and more importantly how they wouldn’t behave. At least, I thought I did. We had friends who had a two-year-old boy that did all the things my children would never dare to do. When he got upset with his mother, he stamped his little feet at her for goodness sake! Now that was one thing my child would never do. Fast forward three years.
Imagine my shock when my little darling didn’t stamp her foot at me. She threw her sandal at me! Now that was definitely not something my kids would ever do. But she did. And I knew that day that I had failed as a mother. (Of course, I hadn’t. She was just expressing her independence. But then, that was something else I hadn’t expected from my two-year-old.)
I’ve had the same experience as a writer. Many times. The first time it happened, I was busy on my first novel. I had worked hard at getting to know my characters. I knew their names and their likes and dislikes. I knew their physical attributes and their emotional make-up. I even had their photographs (cut from magazines) stuck on a collage on the wall in front of me.
Ronny and Sue were ten-year-old twins. Although they were boy and girl, they did everything together and thought and acted as one. I was enjoying the story, and it seemed to be going well, but I had one problem. I needed to introduce another character to my heroine, and hadn’t worked out how to do that.
One day, their mother, my heroine, sent the twins off for a walk with their two-year-old brother, Bobby, strapped securely in his push-chair. My plan was that they would walk around the block, and during that time they would notice something odd about their neighbour, an elderly lady with snooping tendencies. All went well, and my fingers flew across the keys, until the twins noticed a nearby playpark. Now notice—they saw it. Not me. And I was the writer. Well things got worse. They decided to go into the park, and give their baby brother a swing. This was not part of my plot-line.
I typed on, trying to get them to walk past the park. In a way I can only describe as spooky, I watched these naughty kids turn into the park, and all I could do was type. I had heard writers describe such a moment but this was weird.
I rushed to record what happened next. They put Bobby into the kiddy swing and started to push him. Far too high of course.
I tried to tell them, but who was I? I was only the author, and they had no intention of listening to me. Just then, one of them noticed the neighbour on her way past the park. Well, you can imagine the rest, I’m sure. You don’t need me to tell you.
The twins watched the neighbour. Bobby got out the swing . . . when it was high in the air. Drama. Concussion. And along came . . . the guy I needed to introduce to the twins’ mother. Problem solved. And I never again trusted my characters to follow the script.
Now if that’s not visualisation, I don’t know what is! And it all happened because I knew my characters. Oh wait. Maybe not as well as I thought.