Of mediaeval midwives and steampunk Scotties

I sometimes wonder about the characters writers create, about their independent existence. Many years ago I heard a writer speculate that anything you can invent already exists somewhere. The “mulitverse” theory of the universe, the idea that there are multiple almost-parallel universes created by every choice, has gained some respectability, at least among quantum theorists.

Lots of writers – myself included – have spoken of the moment when a character refuses to do what the author expects, or does it so badly that it’s clear the character wants to do something else. What, a character on the page can want something different than what the mind of the writer plans for him or her? Well, why not? We’re always being told to create characters who are “three-dimensional”, in spite of the fact that their entire existence will be lived in only two dimensions – barring possible licensing as action figures.

I’ve written quite literally hundreds of stories. In my novels – and I have three at the moment – I work hard to make my characters three-dimensional. I have a lot of book to play in, so I can take a bit of time to do it, to let the characters develop. The reader, and I, can get to know them the way you get to know people in real life, just a little at a time.

In the short stories and particularly in the flash fiction there isn’t nearly as much time to get to know a character, or to reveal that character to the reader. I’ve created a handful of characters in flash fiction (under 1,000 words) who, almost from their inception, stepped out of the page. Guido da Penguin, an assassin, is one, Sam the caffeinated raccoon another. Both of them turned up in very short pieces, and both of them stole the show in the story, and demanded that more be written about them. I’ve written a second story featuring Sam, and I have notes for half a dozen Guido stories, including a “last bow”.

But the two I’m most intrigued with right now are Aelflaed, a midwife living in England just after the Norman Conquest, and Brucie, a Scottie who died and was resurrected and refitted with a steam-driven heart and a digestive system that runs on coal and produces oil. I’m working on a second story with Aelflaed in it, and I foresee quite a few in the future, because a midwife is uniquely placed to observe people and to be in the thick of things. I haven’t thought of any more to write about Brucie, or Emma, the little girl who owns him. At least, I haven’t yet thought of more, but I’m sure it will come, because Brucie, like Guido, Sam and Aelflaed, managed to find enough substance in the very short story in which he appeared to step out and command my attention apart from that story. He demands that more be written about him.

So what I wonder is this – in some part of the multiverse, is Brucie crunching up his morning dish of coal, or Aelflaed setting a bone or Guido assassinating another character who richly deserves it?

It doesn’t really matter to my writing if they are. I’ll still write the stories. Does it matter to them? There’s a question that could land me in the loony bin. Never mind – writers are all probably overqualified for that anyway. We make up other worlds – or hear signals from them, neither of them particularly normal occupations. But then, if normal means giving up my steampunk Scottie, I don’t want to go there.

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