Author’s note: Hello reader! Before you go ahead and immerse yourself in the article, I wanted to let you know that this is a short narrative essay meant to give writing advice through a cast of characters. It’s a new format I’m trying out, hope you enjoy it!
“Good afternoon, you’ve reached Writer’s Aid, how may we help you today?” the customer support employee asked.
“I would like to schedule a meeting with my main character, please,” I answered.
Through the phone, I could hear the employee typing on a computer. He asked for the names of my novel-in-progress, and the character I wanted to meet. Then I waited for a couple of long seconds, hoping I wasn’t being scammed.
“Alright,” he said at last, “your meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, 2 pm, at Papyrus Bookstore and Coffee Shop. We recommend you to be there five minutes before the meeting. Thank you for calling!”
I turned off the phone with shaky hands.
Clichés and coffee
Papyrus Bookstore and Coffee Shop had all the potential to become my favorite place on earth. The beige and white tables were all decorated with colorful candles and a wooden coffee bar stood at the back of the room. A wide staircase led to the second floor, where rows upon rows of bookshelves were at the disposition of anyone who wandered inside. A writer’s dream.
I resisted the temptation to climb the stairs and sat at the nearest table instead. I had arrived three minutes early, and it gave me just enough time to order a cup of lavender tea. Normally, I would have bought a cappuccino, but I was already nervous enough.
At exactly 2 o’clock, a girl with short black hair entered the bookstore. She wore baggy jeans and a white shirt, which contrasted with her taupe, greyish-brown skin. My character spotted me almost immediately. When she walked towards me, I noticed she tugged her sleeves. She was not used to the clothes she was wearing, yet she could’ve passed for any other city girl.
For a moment, we just stared at each other. Incredulous. Out of place. It was a strange feeling, as if I had decided to swim in a pool of molten snow. Maybe I had fallen asleep while writing and my character had leaked into my dreams.
But as she stood in front of me, breathing and blinking, I knew this was no dream.
“Author,” she said while sitting down. Her tone was cold and distant.
“Andrea? How did you - ” I began, but she cut me off.
“Not sure. Don’t want to know,” she looked into my eyes while speaking. “I was given five minutes.”
I wasn’t sure how much I could do with five minutes, but I told myself I would make it work. Better to go straight to the point.
“Alright, then. We have a problem to solve,” I began. She raised an eyebrow.
“Worse than the fact that I’ve already been kidnapped by the villain?”
Well, yes. More or less. I had just started the first draft of my story and I was already getting close to giving up. The problem? The problem was her. No matter how many times I redid my outline, something felt off about Andrea. For weeks I tried to find a solution on my own, but I just sank deeper into writer’s block. Which led me to a phone call to Writer’s Aid.
“You have as much motivation to write as I have to exist,” she said, reading into my thoughts. I took a deep breath. That was exactly what bothered me.
When it comes to character motivation, I had thought about basic needs first, food, safety, shelter. I changed my mind for esteem, other’s acknowledgment. I even tried for the self-actualization route. But somehow, none of them seemed to fit her.
“Survival, greed, ambition, even avoiding conflict. I’ve already tried to give you everything,” and it was true.
“Everything? You haven’t even given me parents.”
“I already have enough characters to worry about.”
“I’m not asking for siblings and uncles. A parent would do just fine.”
Maybe she was right. It would be another relationship to develop, but I had already rewritten my outline so many times, it wouldn’t harm to do it once more. I could try for a planster approach. It should’ve helped me build her backstory better.
“I’ll try,” I promised, and she relaxed her features. Hope. Her face showed hope.
But then I remembered we had left the motivation problem unsolved, and she hardened her posture again. “I still- we still need to find one thing for you to fight for.”
“Do you fight for something?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
That’s when it hit me. Most people don’t fight for one specific thing. We are a complex merge of needs and desires. I didn’t need to choose a single motivation. I needed to let different things drive her, supplement her.
At least we solved one problem. The clock marked 2:03. So many things we still needed to tackle, and only two minutes left. Frustrated, I quickly glanced at the second floor and imagined, for the fifth time this week, what would it feel like to have finally published a book.
“You’re eager to please them, aren’t you?” Andrea asked, her brow furrowed.
“The market.”Again, she was right. Even if I hated to admit it.
When I wrote the first outline, Andrea was a completely different character. She was a softer version of the girl I was meeting for coffee. She used to be generous and liked to socialize. She smiled a lot. Chose to enjoy cooking and sewing, traditionally feminine hobbies. The plan was to make her more distant as the plot developed, because that’s what round characters do. But in my mind, Andrea would always find comfort in weaving blankets and making lasagne.
However, once I finished the outline, I took a look at my bookshelves. Would the market like her? Would she resonate with someone else?
I closed the three-page document and started a new one. I didn’t think being outspoken or sarcastic were necessarily bad things. But, in my effort to please others, I boarded those traits wrong. And when I met her, I wasn’t sure I liked Andrea myself.
Suddenly I remembered I was still in Papyrus Bookstore. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit “ Of course I am.”
“Your first outline is still saved in your computer,” she said while standing up. “I think I was happier on it.”
She walked towards the door and disappeared behind it, and I wondered if I would ever see her again. I was still sitting down, my lavender tea still raising hot vapor.
I passed through our meeting in my head. Relationships build backstory. There isn’t “the one” when it comes to motivation. Sometimes I need to listen to myself instead of market trends. Don’t be scared to think differently. Finally, I took my computer out of my bag and started writing.
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.