While my main focus right now is working on my YA novel, to give myself a break, I try to mix it up and spend some time on other projects. One of them is wild: It’s a musical based on Sister Carrie, a book by Theodore Dreiser. Since I know nothing about music — that’s certainly writing dangerously!
To keep the project alive, I sometimes write dialogue for it. This is a lot of fun and very instructive. I pick two or three characters in my story and have them talk to each other. Just the other day, a new character cropped up: Joe, who trains girls like Carrie in musical-hall dancing. I started writing some lines for him and suddenly, he came alive for me. I could see and hear him with Carrie and a few other dance-hall hopefuls, showing them the ropes.
One minute, Joe didn’t exist and the next, he did. He was right there, on the page, and talking. It was thrilling! I don’t why Joe came to me that particular night or whether he’ll make into my final piece, but for now, he’s alive and well.
This feeling of calling characters into being is so mysterious and magical. When I was working on my Sojourner Truth play, I had a character called Robert, who was Sojourner’s love interest when she was a young slave. After hearing an actor and actress play the two of them in a small scene, I got so excited that on the way home from New York, I wrote a new, much bigger moment for them where they imagine their life together.
When the scene was performed, it really blew me away. I realized that I had brought Robert (who was a real person mentioned in Sojourner’s autobiography) to life for a few moments. He was a footnote in history, but on stage he was real: he had a voice and dreams — and I had given voice to that voice and those dreams. It was one of the most satisfying creative experiences I’ve ever had. How about you?
How does it make you feel when you summon a character out of the creative void?