My fictional characters have never really been that hard to work with. In fact, I always found it pretty easy to get into their heads, assuming I have the TV on mute as I type and watch them in action. I modeled them after some of my favorite television and movie characters. I'm not saying that I copied another person's character and made it my own, or that I'm taking credit for another person's idea. Basically, if I am fond of that actor or actress and the characters that they play on screen, I am inspired to create one of my own, combining several personality traits from those characters. It's called an "amalgam," and over the years, I've used these amalgams with the faces of a variety of actors and actresses that I admire to shape my own characters.
But lately, I've been struggling to get to know them deep down inside, what they want from me, what they want from each other, what they want from themselves, and what issues, if any, they have with me and why. If only I could talk to them, sit them down and find out these things.
Yeah right, Amy, they're fictional. They're not real. They'll never be real. They exist only in your mind, and the reader's minds.
Those are the thoughts that fill my head as I sit in front of my gray Toshiba laptop, staring at the empty page in front of me, trying to figure out how to start my next novel. After three long minutes, I decide to push it aside and instead, bring up my internet explorer, beginning to aimlessly surf the net, update my Twitter status, take a quick look at Facebook, when suddenly, an internet ad on the sidebar catches my eye. My brows furrow inquisitively as I look at it closer. There is a picture of a youthful and intelligent looking brunette lady, a cloudy blue sky background behind her, her small rimless reading glasses perched on the edge of her small slightly upturned nose, a pensive expression on her attractive face. Beside her picture, to the left, reads the words:
Dr. Abigail Hensley can help!
Call today for a free consultation.
Looking below the banner, I notice that two of my fellow Facebook friends and writers have "liked" Dr. Hensley, Zachary and Nick Stephenson. Well that was a good sign. Maybe this doctor was legit. Grabbing a pen and a pad of paper from beside my bed, I set it down beside me before pushing myself up to my feet, crossing the room to grab my iPhone from the iHome dock. Too late to call? I glance up at the clock near my bookshelf, it was nearly 10:30 at night. Maybe I could just leave a message for her to call me back. No one would be in the office at this time of night. Plopping back down on my bed, I dial the number on the ad and hold the phone to my ear, listening to it ring once, twice, then, to my astonishment, someone picks up.
"Hello?" A woman says in a weary voice.
I open my mouth to try and form a sentence. "S-sorry, I'm sorry for calling so late, I didn't think anyone would pick up." I silently curse myself for my idiotic choice of words.
"That's all right."
"I hope this isn't the wrong number. Can I speak to Dr. Abigail Hensley?"
"This is Dr. Hensley. How can I help you?"
"Oh!" I laugh lightly in embarrassment. "My bad. Hi, I'm Amy. I um...I saw your ad on Facebook, about character issues and writer help. I was wondering if there was any way you could helpmewith mine."
"Of course. Let me just grab a pen and paper here. What's your name?"
"Amy. Amy West."
"Amy...West. And how many characters are you having trouble with?"
"How many? Well, is...is there a limit? How much do you charge? Is it per character?"
"There's no limit. The fee depends on how many characters you have, but it's usually a dollar a session for new clients."
I blink at her words, wondering if I'd heard her correctly. "What? A dollar? Like one dollar per character? Or $100?"
"No, just one dollar co-pay, per character. I know it may seem a little hard to believe, Amy, but I didn't get into my line of work for the money. I got into it to help struggling authors and their characters. My daughter was one once, but due to...a sudden tragedy...she's no longer with us."
I scowl, and out of my future occupational curiosity to become a crime scene investigator, I start wondering what kind of tragedy her daughter had been a victim of, and what had caused her death. "Oh...I'm sorry. Well I have...erm...20 characters. Is that too many?"
"That's quite a lot, but no, it's perfectly fine. I can work with a group that big."
"A group? You mean you help me with all 20 in one session?"
"Well, depending on how your characters behave, there is another option. We could schedule a session with each one of them. It tends to get a little chaotic sometimes, when there are more than two people in the same room. Are your characters very reactive?"
How my characters behave? With each one of them? Chaotic? In the same room? I stare at the phone in utter confusion. "I'm sorry, you lost me. Are we talking about writing? And what do you mean it gets chaotic with them in the same room? You mean on paper?"
I hear Dr. Hensley sigh deeply from the other end of the phone. "Didn't you read the information on my website, honey? I specialize in the psychological relationships between authors and their characters. My sessions require that both of you be present, so that we can talk about these issues you are having face to face, and try and find a positive solution."
"Face to face?" I giggle in amusement, starting to think this doctor is a little off her rocker.
"I'm not joking, Amy."
"My characters are characters. They're works of fiction in my head. They're not real flesh and blood people like you and me. I wish!"
"You wish what?"
"I wish that my characters were real, but they're not. They'll never be real, except in my head."
"Be careful what you wish for." Dr. Hensley chides me, in a tone so firm, I swear I'd heard my own mother use it before.
I roll my eyes. "Oh yeah, right. Like that's really going to come true anytime soon. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be rude. I still want your help on all this. I'm just trying to understand how we're going to do it. Do I need to bring my laptop with me? My character bios or anything? A self-published book of mine? A notebook and a pen, what?"
"Are you really serious about this?"
"Yeah, just tell me what I have to do."
"First thing's first, I need the names of each one of your characters."
"Okay..." A pensive expression crosses my face as I start to name each one of them, in no particular order, "Victor Bane. Andrew Barnett. James Cunningham. Emma Clayworth. Max Barnes. Courtney Price. Zack Price. Michael Brentwood. Lucy Decoy. Ryan Pierce. Jason Malone. Tina Baker. Amy Gellar. Catherine Davis. Candice Davis. Steve Jennings. Danielle Stone. Robert Stone."
"And the last two?" She asks. "That's 18, you said there were 20."
"Right. Annabel Cunningham and...god, what's the other one? Nora Harding."
"All right, I've got them all. Is that Catherine with a C or K?"
"A 'C,'" I reply.
"And Zack and Courtney, how are they spelled?"
"Z-a-c-k and C-o-u-r-t-n-e-y."
"Okay. Now I want you to do one more thing for me. Well, two things."
I listen carefully to the doctor. "Okay, what are they?"
"Depending on the issues your characters are having, I'm going to ask that you take four days of your time to commit to these sessions. Can you do that?"
"Yeah, I'm free. I don't start school for over another month so I can definitely do that."
"Okay, great. I'll give you the next day or so, to allow you and your characters time to settle into a hotel, and then we'll begin our sessions on Friday, or Saturday if you prefer."
"Friday is fine," I tell her, making a mental note to DVR my shows. "But wait? Why do I need to go to a hotel? And how am I going there with my characters?" I bring my hand up to my forehead and sigh deeply. "I am so confused right now."
"Your confusion is normal, Amy. I've had this problem with all of my new clients. And I suggest a hotel, because your house isn't going to be big enough to hold 20 people."
She just wasn't getting the picture. She was looney! She had to be. I shake my head in disbelief. "I already told you, my characters aren't real. Why do you keep talking about them like they are?"
"Don't worry, everything will be explained soon enough. Would Friday at noon be appropriate for you?"
While her voice is calm and comforting, I'm still not so sure about all this. What did she mean by "everything will be explained soon enough?" Deciding to give her the benefit of the doubt, I offer quietly, "how about one in the afternoon?"
"One it is then. Now, do you have a pen and paper nearby?"
I pick up the pen and paper beside me and nod, even though I know she can't see me. "Yeah," I say, writing down the time of the appointment, along with her number. She proceeds to give me the address to her office building in Los Angeles, along with the number for her office, and I quickly take it down. "Okay, I got it. Is that it?"
"One more thing. I want you to write these words down, and recite them three times before you go to bed."
Recite them? My brows furrow inquisitively. "Um..." What is she? A witch? As weird as things are at the moment, I wouldn't put it past me. Tucking a loose strand of auburn hair behind my ear, I put my pen to the paper again. "Okay."
"To the characters in my head, I'm offering you a life instead. You're no longer fictional, not trapped in my mind, because I'm cutting the chains that bind. Bones, blood, flesh. I want our worlds to mesh. Come to me, I conjure thee, come to me and be free."
I gasp softly, suddenly dropping my pen, my heart leaping up into my throat as a small and chilly breeze brushes over my head. I look up at the air vent in the ceiling, but the air conditioning isn't even on, and the fan beside my bed is only blowing hot air.
"Don't be afraid," Dr. Hensley says. "Nothing is going to happen, unless you give it permission. Just recite those words three times before you fall asleep, and everything will work out as you want it to."
With a shaky hand, I pick up the pen and continue writing the words she spoke to me, trying to remember them all, though not wanting to ask her to repeat them for fear of what might happen. "What were the words after 'not trapped in my mind?'"
"I'm cutting the chains that bind. Bones, blood, flesh. I want our worlds to mesh. Come-"
"Okay, okay! I got the rest, stop."
Dr. Hensley sighs. "Just remember, Amy. You don't have to do this, if you don't want to, but I really would like to help you, if you'll allow me to. That's what I want for all of my clients. A lot of them have really benefited from my sessions, and I've got some great testimonials. They've found it really helped them understand their characters better, and have gone on to become best selling authors."
I sigh softly, setting my pen down and thinking to myself, here comes the sales pitch. "I got it, Dr. Hensley. I'm still going to do it. I don't know about reciting these words though. It seems a little creepy."
"I assure you, nothing but good will come of it," she tells me. "If you're truly committed to taking my therapy sessions, you're going to have to recite that incantation three times. Otherwise this won't work at all. Do you understand?"
Despite my confusion and the migraine that is starting to form in my head, I sigh softly and decide, once more, to give her the benefit of the doubt. "I understand, Dr. Hensley. I'll...do that I guess."
"All right. I'll see you this Friday then, and please, bring everyone with you."
"Good luck, Amy. Have a good night."
"Yeah, you too." Ending the call, I toss my phone down, staring down at it dumbfounded for a few long seconds, as if it had suddenly transformed itself into a snake. I bite down on my bottom lip, glancing at the laptop screen at the picture of the attractive doctor in her ad, then down at the pad of paper in my hands, where I had written the incantation, reading it in my head once more. I start to wonder: Did that just happen? Did I really just make a deal with a witch? Or a witch posing as a doctor? I don't know what to believe anymore. Pushing the huge lump down in my throat, I set the pad of paper aside and take a long look around the room, expecting to see something weird, feel another chilly breeze, or my mom to peek her head in and yell: "Gotcha!" But nothing happened.
Chalking it up to me just being paranoid and tired, I turn back to my computer, bringing up the blank page of my word processor and closing the program. Forget the new novel. I had Dr. Hensley's help now. She'd help get me on the right track again. Maybe this was a character exercise. Maybe saying those words would help me feel more confident about my writing, or help me see my characters in a new light. Yeah, that had to be it. She wasn't certifiably insane, was she? Otherwise, who would give her a license to practice psychology, or whatever it was she said she specialized in?
Bringing up my internet explorer once more, I take one final look at Dr. Hensley, and navigate away from the page and Facebook, and instead, go back to Twitter to update my status with the words: I just got off the phone with Dr. Abigail Hensley, and she is one kooky lady. My characters aren't real and she's acting like they are. I sigh softly, hoping one of my followers will sympathize with me, and try and convince me I'm not going crazy. Am I going crazy for trusting her?I tweet.