Tuesday, January 19, 2010



by Brian Meehl







This author has been asked to blog about returning to characters because said author has been recently asked to write a sequel to his YA novel, Suck It Up.

Said author will now return to the character previously known as “I.”

Besides the little reincarnation just executed, I have oodles of experience “returning to characters.” In television, that is. But I’m a total character-redux virgin when it comes to books. Can it be so different? Well, work-for-hire TV is like babysitting other people’s kids; returning to your own characters is like--gulp--rearing your own precious babies!

In fact, standing on the precipice of re-embracing my fictional spawn fills me with:

DREAD: OMG, I thought I was done with them.

ANGER: I mean, c’mon! They’re like kids you send away to college, then they move back in! I want my empty nest!

RESIGNATION: Okay, maybe a sequel isn’t such a bad thing.

HOPE: Hey, my agent tells me an only child is tougher to sell foreign than multiple children. Selling multiple children is good. Very good.

AVARICE: Dare I say, “Series?”

PRESSURE: But after book 1, fans of my hero and heroine now have ramped up expectations. Won’t I just disappoint them? Can I reincarnate the characters so they’ll be familiar and new-n-improved?

RELIEF: Hey, at least I don’t have to start from scratch. I know these guys (and girls).

ANTICIPATION: Man, I can’t wait to dive into this tribe again and see what kinda trouble they whip up!

BACK TO DREAD: What trouble? At the end of book 1, I tied everything up neat and tidy. There’s no trouble left! Ahhhh!

TERROR: I feel like Hamlet after he saw the ghost of his murdered father! How did that work out for him?!

But, prior to dashing wild and naked down Hamlet’s homicidal highway, I hear a little voice. It asks, “Did you? Did you tidy everything up neat and tidy?”

There’s only one way to find out, dude. Go back and read your damn book.

Which is what I’d be doing if I weren’t writing this blog. Aye, there’s the rub. I’m going to read the book right now, ripple-gliss back to you, and share what I discovered about returning to characters. Sure, it feels like a high school reunion you do and don’t want to attend, but there’s bound to be some surprises. Right?

To do this full before-and-after thing, I should give you my current thinking on character-returns, character-backwash, whatever you wanna call it.

It’s kind of like the Zen thing of never being able to step in the same river twice. Just like a river, the flow of a new narrative puts your character(s) in different water. Same place + different water = altered character(s).

However, since I’ve been reading a lot about blood-feeding animals lately (research for Suck It Up II)--I’m going to throw a couple of new words out that most of you (except biology majors) probably don’t know. They might throw a different light on character resurrections.

Ecdysis, from the Greek “escape” or “getting out of,” is the act of molting or shedding an outer layer. Arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans) do it, snakes do it, do fictional characters do it too?

Instar, “a stage in the life of an arthropod between two successive molts.” (Well put, Merriam-Webster.)

If we think of a fictional character as an organism that continues to grow and develop, then in book 1, they’re instar #1 and, via the magic of a little ecdysis, they escape the skin of their former self (and the narrative shell of book #1) and become instar #2. Presto-chango, they are both different and the same.

Thanks to Merriam-Webster we might even define character-return like so: “a stage in the life of a character between two successive dramas.” Or in the case of Harry Potter, between two years of school. Or in the case of Bella, between two kisses. (Okay, I never got past Twilight 1 so I just assumed it was one kiss per book.)

Now I’m gonna go read my book 1, and see if any of this falderal holds up. Back in a jiff.

[Insert ripple-gliss]

Whoa, that was weird! So many details I’d forgotten after two years of playing deadbeat-author to my imaginary issue.

Which brings up the best reason for rereading your book. Your readers probably have a fresher and better memory of your characters than you do. So, if you’re going to write ‘em again, you better brush up on their physical characteristics, idiosyncrasies, distinctive voices, etc.

But here’s what struck me most about having a surprise union with my old crew of imaginary buds. You know that phenomena of people going back to reunions--high school, college, whatever--and there’s that person that you had a thing for way back when, but nothing came of it? Or maybe it was a way-back girl or boyfriend, and you meet them again and it’s like a romantic version of those shrimp that can live in the desert for decades, then one little rainfall wakes ‘em up and they go crazy? Okay, maybe not the best simile but you know what I’m talking about. That’s what it can be like returning to your characters. You had something back in the day, you picked up right were you left off, and you can’t wait to take it further. Hit Play, hit Fast Forward, I don’t care, just get me off Pause!

In my view, the cause of this interpersonal imprinting that can occur in adolescence and go Sleeping-Beauty for decades lies in our least understood sense: smell. It’s some kind of pheromone flashback, pulling us back to the hormonal hurricane, and deliciously stormy weather, of youth.

Which brings me to my point (should you be wondering if there was one). Returning to characters isn’t much different than the Sleeping Beauty Effect. You’ve already danced, groped, had a creative union at such a profound level with these former “classmates,” all you have to do is show up for the reunion and let your imagination take it from there.

Or, to borrow from a current rage and put character redux in Jeopardy-speak:

Answer: A variant phrase or version of a continuing basic entity.

Question: What is an avatar?

When it comes to my reunion with my particular synaptic spawn, I’m gonna geek-up and go with answer B). I’m gonna lay down a little ecdysis and watch my instars step out.


Welcome to your own reunion. What will you do?