Last night my husband and I saw Saving Mr. Banks. It was fabulous! As a writer, I could relate to Ms. Travers' reluctance to trust Walt Disney with her darlings. She describes her characters as family. And Disney describes Mickey as his family.
As artists, don't we all consider our darlings family? Don't we all have trouble trusting others to portray them correctly? To see them the same way we do? But the truth is that everyone will see them differently. No one will envision our beloveds the way we do. My precious Rowena (MC of my latest novel) is a snarky introvert with brown curly hair that carries an extra 5lbs around the middle and wears little makeup... I know exactly what she looks like and acts like, but because of our human association skills, most will envision someone who she reminds them of her or someone who they've seen on TV that has most of her same characteristics. The fact is that our characters have to be original enough to inspire imagination and make people want to know them more, but generic enough for people to relate to them. In other words, my Rowena will be different to everyone who reads her.
The question is: Is that okay?
Samuel Johnson once said, "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." No truer words were ever spoken. When I was in college studying literature, we always tried to defend what we thought the real meaning of the story was, and I always used the writers' thoughts to defend their work. But I was continually reminded that there is no true meaning. Opinions are truth to the beholder; literature's truth is up to the readers.
We must let them go- let them be whomever readers need them to be. Novels are therapy, after all. If my Rowena needs to be someone else in order for a reader to relate to her, so be it. She'll take care of them. I not only trust my readers with my beloved, I trust my Rowena with my readers. I trust that she will take them to places they've never been, face many dangers, and still bring them out of the tale alive and better for it.
The black and white print is only the beginning. It's everything in the margins that gives readers the room to make the story their own. All we can hope for is that our characters are for our readers what they are to us - friends and family.
Photo by Favim.