Narrative, character, and the business of falling in love.

I’m in love with two people other than my husband. Not that I’ve told him. He doesn’t need to know and by next month it will be someone else.

The amount I fall in love has everything to do with the amount that I’m reading. One memorable summer I only fell in love the once, but I fell hard and I’ve never got over him*. Fictional people are so wonderful to moon over. It’s not the same as falling in love with a real person, because it’s not always the case that you’d want to move in, marry and choose white goods with the object of your affection, but you do feel that delicious pull to be with them as often as possible. Your eyes race over the sentences to find out what happens next, you sigh as you close the last page of the book and immediately open it again at the beginning, unable to stand the idea of being without them. And you are never going to be disappointed by the socks on the floor, the dishes left in the sink or the anniversary forgotten.

I love a byronic hero. I love an underdog. I love flashes of honour, loyalty, brains, compassion, self-sacrifice. I love the character on the sidelines with wit and arched eyebrows. I love the girl who gets the boy without sacrificing herself. I love the boy who sacrifices everything except honour, and then gets the girl anyway.

I love these characters, because I want things to be better than they are. I want people to be the best extremes of themselves, to rise above our ordinary concerns of bill-paying, commuting difficulties and food buying, and be more noble. I want to be more noble through living with them for a little while.

This month I’m mooning over two characters from different centuries. Firstly, Eugene Wrayburn, in Our Mutual Friend. No spoilers here, (yes, even for Dickens – be careful what you google!) but Eugene has wormed his way in to my affections, from playing the disinterested, silent cad on the outside, to being … well, better on the inside. I have about 17 hours of this to listen to yet, so please, no elucidation. I hear his name and I perk up. It’s quite something.

The other character lives inside an app. His name is Sam, and he lost someone close to him recently. To zombies. I’m learning to run so I can help him (the app is called Zombies Run! 5K training, just in case you need to learn to run for the apocalypse.) It’s quite something in a completely different way.

Story is the thing. Everyone has one, and once they start unfurling, once you see how your characters start behaving when life is thrown at them, it’s hard not to form some kind of attachment, positive or negative. And this, my loves, is why my novel started failing. I loved everyone, except my narrator. He was just a blank to me, whatever I tried. I suppose it’s what you might call a fatal flaw.

Can I fix it? Perhaps. But I’m not sure I should. What I need to do is something I used to do all the time when I was younger – dream up someone I do love.

*Sherlock Holmes. Obviously.

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