Characters as Friends

by Meg Rich

I distinctly remember the first time I cried for one of my characters. As was my practice, I’d written early that morning, and had just discovered something quite devastating about him. On my walk to work, I took a scenic route that overlooked the front range of the Rockies, and as the sun hit the peaks, I became overwhelmed by the loss I was trying to convey on the page. How could this happen to him? How would the other characters get through this? I spent those few minutes watching the sunrise and tried, unsuccessfully, to save him. I went over it a few times in my mind, the warning signs, the sad facts of what only he (and I) knew, and it seemed heartbreakingly inevitable, the kind of plot twist you don’t expect coming but makes perfect sense. Why wasn’t I happy then? Hadn’t I found the answer I was looking for to the riddle of the ending? The truth is, over the course of the first year writing that novel, my characters had become my intimate friends. I was deeply sad for his fate though I knew it was the right one for my story.

And this is the fact of writing a novel that many writers don’t talk about. You are in it, so deeply, from such an early stage; you care about what happens to your characters and the radiating effects of their lives on other lives. Even when it hurts to write it — maybe especially so — you try your best to tell the story as truthfully as you can. You wrestle with your character’s transformations just as you do your own, and you realize that there is so little that separates us, that there is almost nothing in this world that we can’t imagine a way out of. By the end of the process, after the book is out in the world and you’re working on the next, these people still burn somewhere in the corner of your heart. Like friends from earlier periods of your life, you are never without them. As a writer of novels, I can say that this is my favorite aspect of the years-long pursuit: no matter the fate of the book itself, no one can take these friends from you.

Jumpstart Your Novel

Writing a novel is hard work but work worth doing, and the hardest part for a first-timer is not knowing what you’re doing. This four-week, mostly asynchronous studio will help you decide if you want to write a novel, and, if so, will help make the journey much less fraught. Through recorded lectures, readings, online discussions, and short assignments, we will examine the structures of stories, protagonists and their journeys, story worlds, story time, genre, point of view—and the habit, discipline, and support needed to get it done. This is a great choice if you’re considering applying for Authors Lab.

Four weeks asynchronous beginning April 16, at your own pace. Includes two optional live sessions via Zoom, April 17 and May 15 at 6 pm. Members $300, Non-Members $375. (Non-member fee includes a one-year Charlotte Lit General Membership.) Register

Megan Rich has written two books, a YA novel and a travel memoir, and is seeking representation for her third, a literary thriller inspired by The Great Gatsby. She took part in the highly selective sub-concentration in creative writing at the University of Michigan, for which she completed a thesis of original poetry. She’s also a graduate of the selective Lighthouse Writers Workshop Book Project, and she is a 2022 recipient of the Arts & Science Council Charlotte’s Creative Renewal Fellowship. With 14 years’ experience as a creative writing teacher and mentor of students from ages 12 to 85, she is passionate about helping all writers find and refine their voices on the page.