At the end of the movie Titanic, Rose says, “I’ll never let go, Jack.” Of course, she then promptly lets go, and his frozen body sinks into the icy depths.
Which just goes to show that letting go it hard to do (unless you’re Rose).
Writers, myself included, sometimes find it difficult to say goodbye to our characters when the story is over. It’s hard–almost impossible–to write 102,000 words–and twice that amount in discarded material–without getting attached to the (fictional) people you’ve been sharing head space with. I’ve been writing about my current characters for about two years now. I dreamed them up from nowhere, molded them, listened to their voices in my head, reshaped them, fit the story to them and them to the story . . . and along the way I really fell in love with them.
So what’s a girl to do? The story was written, the arc was complete. Some characters were dead, others were off to something like a happily-ever-after. We started here; we ended there. It took us over a hundred thousand words to get there. The story proper was done. Finito.
And yet . . .
There they still were, popping into my head when I was brushing my teeth or taking a shower or sitting on the bus. All of a sudden, a new situation would appear in my head–what if this happened? How would Caroline, Everett, or Harry handle it? What would Augustine say? Although I loved all my characters, it was almost always Everett and Harry who appeared there with something to say.
So I decided to keep writing, even though the story was over. I had an idea–a silly idea, really. It’s filled with various cliches. But I thought it was fitting. It’s a death scene, a quiet death scene. A character (I don’t want to spoil anything, even though there’s not much chance anyone reading this will ever read Channing, or even that it’ll ever be in print) is old and sick. It’s forty years after the end of Channing, and he’s sitting alone in the dark. Suddenly, a ghost from his past appears. They talk for a bit, then the old man is escorted away to his death by the ghost.
See? That would seem exceptionally silly tacked on to the end of a novel. It might be silly all by itself–though I like to think I wrote it well. The point is, I had this image in my head of exactly what those two would say to each other, forty years later, one of them dead and one of them shriveled with age. I had to keep writing. Sometimes, the bug bites really hard, and it doesn’t matter if it’s useful for anything. It just needs to be written down.
And just the other day, another vivid image came to my mind as I was thinking about the years directly after the end of Channing, the years of the Civil War. Perhaps ironically, the image was a funny one (a wife daring her husband to go down to breakfast naked in the morning, and him doing it). And I thought to myself, it’s a moment of laughter in the face of great tragedy. So I wrote another scene, another little epilogue that will never be part of a published book but just is.
If I ever am lucky enough to get Channing published, and if I ever am lucky enough to have people who care to read them, I’ll make these scenes available. But until then, I guess I just have to content myself with creating these little epilogues for my own enjoyment. Eventually, I’m sure, I’ll get this story and these characters out of my system. Until then, I guess they’ll just continue carrying on their conversations in the corners of my mind. Maybe I don’t want them to stop. Maybe letting them go really is hard to do.