In the clip below, the great Stan Lee talks about writing, characters, dialogs, and much more. A fly crawling on the wall gave him the idea to create a superhero who could stick to walls and ceilings like an insect. But what to name him? Insect-Man? Mosquito-Man? It became Spider-Man, of course.
You think characters vanish just because you ditch them from a story you plan to write? They don’t. They travel from one writer to another begging to be heard: What am I to be?
Imagine you sketch an idea for a story on a yellow Post-it about an author who, while giving a presentation on a stage at the city’s Grand Hotel, suddenly sees a lady dressed in red being forcefully removed from the room by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin and taken away. She desperately turns her head to the author and he reads her lips: Help me! Then you sigh in resignation: O-M-G ― and put the Post-it in the drawer, stacked on top of your other Post-its outlining half-hearted ideas, and forget all about it.
Meanwhile, the abandoned author makes it his mission to find the woman and begins his journey from author to author. Sometimes he makes a brief appearance in a story, maybe standing on a crime scene looking for the lady in red. Sometimes he is brought in for interrogation before he is released and disappears from yet another story. This is all unbeknownst to you until one fine day, a new book makes the headlines as a debuting author releases a crime novel called Lady in Red. Critics and readers alike are overjoyed: “Sensational!” “A new Mankell!” The novel is about an author who travels all over Europe searching for a lady dressed in red who was forcefully removed from his reading gig at the city’s Grand Hotel by a scar-faced man with an ugly grin. “Lady in red?” you mutter to yourself and a vague memory of a character on a yellow Post-it surfaces.
One slight nod and the plot turns. Rick is forced to choose side in the on-going war. Rick who? Rick Blaine, of course. Café owner and Mr. “I stick my neck out for nobody” himself in Casablanca, played by Humphrey Bogart. When a group of German officers in Rick’s café starts singing patriotic “Die Wacht am Rhein,” resistance leader Victor asks the house band to play “La Marseillaise.” The band members look at Rick, who gives them a silent nod. In the “duel of anthems” that follows, the Germans are drowned out by the French. For Rick, this has consequences.
I squandered my time trying to define him, so I erased him from my story and left him standing on the corner of Grafton and Duke.
If you encounter him on the corner of Grafton and Duke, a puzzled, elusive character, not yet fully written into life, be kind to him.
No one is as real to me as people in the novel. It grows like a living thing. When I realize they do not exist except in my mind I have a feeling of sadness, looking around for them, as if the half-empty cafe were a place I had once come to with friends who had all moved away.
— Mavis Gallant
Timeless classic: When a character you created decades ago — one with red hair, sticky-out pigtails, freckles, strength, and the name of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking, Pippi for short — continues to inspire, both because of who she is and because of her mismatched long stockings. Knit yourself a pair.
Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002) was a wonderful storyteller.
A childhood without books — that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.
— Astrid Lindgren