by Janis Patterson
It's funny, but as a writer one of the most consistent reactions I get is "How do you keep all the characters in a whole book straight?"
I don't understand. Each character is a separate and distinct person, albeit just not in concrete form. How can I mix up a separate and distinct person with another separate and distinct person, even if they exist only in my imagination and a collection of pixels?
The non-writers always look at me weirdly as I answer, but usually don't scoff openly unless I tell them that I normally have three or four projects going more or less simultaneously. Then they are absolutely astonished - and again they wonder how I not only keep all the characters straight, but keep all of them in their own books.
Only a few, usually writers, scoff when I explain. (And I really don't see how they can work on only one project at a time without becoming fatally bored! But - chacun à son goût!) I ask them if they have a job, then if they go to church, then if they have extended family they don't see every day. Most everyone answers yes. Then I ask them if they ever get someone from their extended family mixed up with someone from their church, or their job. Every single time (almost!) they answer "Of course not!" rather indignantly ... then the light begins to dawn behind their eyes. Sometimes it dawns slowly, but it does dawn. Most of the time.
The Husband says I live only half-way in the world of reality, and I guess he's right, because my characters are as real - and sometimes more so - than the biological specimens with whom I interact. Everyone knows that writing is a lonely profession - just the writer and his computer and the stories in his head. Still - I'm never lonely. My characters are always there, and sometimes working alone in an empty office can get very crowded.