Let Him In

How often do I have to hear my own advice before I’ll follow it? I am at the very end of rewriting a novel and realized the other day that one of the characters had to change. No problem there, it was what I did next that caused me trouble. I told myself it was very important that I get this character right. I told myself he had to be sinister but not obviously so, that he had to be surprising, but above all I had to get him right and that I wouldn’t let him appear until I knew exactly who he was.

And as is always the case, he refused to introduce himself to me. He declined the invitation to the party of my book, and I spent a day wondering if my writing career had come to an end at the hands of this one recalcitrant character.

A lot of ink has been spilled detailing writers’ worst mistakes, but there’s really only one, and it’s the easiest in the world to make. I didn’t trust myself. And in that moment of not trusting, as a quick as a thought, the source of all my interest in the story clamped shut like a crimped garden hose, and I felt that spiraling desperation that knows no bottom. It was as if I had forgotten how to write.

Until, that is, I remembered that the only way into my story is through my own pleasure, and there is always much pleasure in being surprised. Open a door, I thought, and he will be there.  Prepare for nothing but to be delighted.

My story has lots of closed doors, so I stuck him behind one, had my hero open it, and there he was. “Oh, glad you could make it,” I said. “My pleasure,” he said. “I’ve been here all along, you know, just waiting for you to let me in.”

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