Last night was the annual meeting of my fictional characters association. They all crowded into my office, taking up almost all the virtual space. I must confess at the outset that I detest these meetings, and made a huge mistake in instituting them years ago when I had only a few characters.
The meeting began with an announcement by the leading character from my oldest series. He was joined by all of his iterations in later books, each progressively older.
“We join in demanding that if our character is to be renewed for another book, and subsequent books, that we always remain the same age. It is not fair to either the younger, stronger but less experienced iterations that our virtual physical abilities deteriorate while our virtual wisdom expands along with our waistlines. We demand an end to this progression, which can only end in death.”
I was at a loss for words. The aging of all continuing characters is intrinsic to the concept of a long series. Nevertheless, I promised to diminish the aging to tiny, incremental changes.
Although the principal leading men still had the floor, they were interrupted by a chorus of others, who rose from their virtual seats and demanded to be heard.
“I object to the casual way in which you created and then murdered me,” shouted Beautiful Young Woman in Slutty Dress, from book two of my longest series. “You used two pages describing me, the way I was dressed, the hotel where I worked nights, the way I walked, the way I spoke to men, dozens of tiny details. And then, two pages later, the first page of the next chapter, I’m face up on a cold steel morgue table, buck naked, with a young pathologist cutting me open and pulling my guts out.”
“Do you not realize that your murder was the event that drove the plot?” I asked.
“I was the McGuffin?”
“Then why name me Ann May? Shouldn’t I have a better name?”
“What’s your problem, Woman in Slutty Attire,” said Thin Man with Unkempt Hair. “I got one line, ‘If you please, sir.” opening the door so that Suave Tall Man with Concealed Handgun could glimpse you. One line and I was gone forever.”
“Hold on,” I said, getting to my real feet. “I am the creator of these books. I make you as it suits me, in furtherance of the story I’m telling.”
“Not so fast,” yelled Man Smoking Under Streetlight at Dusk. “I have no lines. I open no doors, look at no one. All I do is smoke under a streetlight. How does that advance the story?”
“I’m not perfect, but I sell plenty of books,” I replied. “And you were there for atmosphere, to show that it was night and that the setting was outdoors.”
“I find that offensive,” Man Smoking Under Streetlight at Dusk replied, but any further speech on his part was drowned out by Second Book Female Lead, who jumped to her feet.
“As long as we’re discussing the use and abuse of our character, tell me why the hell you saw fit to kill me on the next-to-last page of the second book? What the goddamn hell? How do you get away with shit like that?”
I instantly flashed on the scene and regretted making her a loud, foul-mouthed, but kind-hearted and glamorous character.
“I was setting up the opening of the next book, where Lead Male Character meets The Love Of His Life,” I stammered, regretting for the zillionth virtual time that I had created these annual meetings.
“He’s talking about me, you foul-mouthed bitch,” said Love Of His Life, who so far has starred in five novels.
“Are you saying your virtual life is more important than mine?” shouted Second Book Female Lead. “I’m the one who introduces him to the joys of matrimony. Gets him way past Missionary Style. Who didn’t leave him after he went broke, but got him back on his feet by working nights in a bagel factory for two years, until he could face the street again. But keep talking, Love. I have it on good authority that you will be divorced two books from now,” she shouted.
This was getting out of hand. Someone had accessed my plot book, which I kept in my office computer.
“That’s enough! Enough!” yelled Leading Man’s Best Friend. “You’re making far too much of yourselves. We are fictional characters. We exist at the pleasure of our Creator. Who are you or me or any of us to protest about our lot?”
The room fell virtually silent.
“Never forget,” Best Friend continued. “We live only in the imagination of readers. And sooner or later, and likely sooner, no one will read any of our books. In the end, we’re all just squiggles of soy ink on cheap paper.”
The meeting adjourned as silently as it had begun, and the characters drifted off, as they always do, until I was alone with my thoughts.
I was ready to cry. I sweated blood to create these characters, to dream up scenes, storylines, dialogue, and everything else that goes into a book.
And in the end, it would all be merely soy ink on cheap, recycled paper. Why had I wasted my life?
I awoke with a start, my mouth dry and itchy, my stomach sour. No more midnight meals, I vowed. But I nevertheless wanted to find a way to bring back Man Smoking Under Streetlight at Dusk, Beautiful Young Woman in Slutty Dress, and some of the other minor characters back in future books. Perhaps a prequel?
But as for Principal Character in Oldest Series, they could just get old like me, and learn to accept it.
© 2020 Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.