In a story I’ve yet to finish to my satisfaction, I named a character Kevin. Didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. He was mentioned only once, and his exact role, his actions were never explicitly said. What happened between him and the narrator of this story was alluded to, and sure, anyone could figure out what had happened between them. But he—that name—was only mentioned once. He wasn’t a real character, I suppose, is what I mean to say. His actions were the character; how he influenced the trajectory of these characters’ back-story, that was important, that was the character. Kevin was the fog of a nightmare that these characters were trying so desperately to run from. But he wasn’t a character. His name didn’t matter to me.
It didn’t matter until I accidentally started writing a prequel of sorts to that story which made the Kevin character the third of a three-pronged attack on the main character’s sanity. It started to matter then because one of my closest friends is named Kevin. That makes me uncomfortable. Do other writers have this reaction? Do they have rules against naming particular characters a certain name? Do other writers refuse to use their mother’s or sister’s name for a love interest? Or their best friend’s name for a rapist?
This wasn’t supposed to be a character. So why not just change the name? What does it matter? Well, the problem now is that I’ve spent months working on both of these stories, and beyond what’s committed to paper there’s a hidden story for them all, a back-story that’s developed and played out in my head whether or not I’m actively writing these characters. This back-story is as real for me as anything taking place in the so-called “real world,” despite my realization that I’m making it up as I go along. This is why all writers are that special kind of crazy that makes us all so endearing and delightfully morose; we’re creatures of two worlds. And sometimes we lose track of which one is real.
Which is why this Kevin thing is making me really uncomfortable. But as I get ready to post the next part of my ongoing accidental story through Wattpad, I’ve realized there’s nothing I can do. Not after this long. Like I said, it’s been months. For months this guy’s name has been Kevin. This Kevin is a son of a bitch, he’s obnoxious, he’s entitled. He has no idea that what he did to this girl was a crime, or that he should be punished.
Looking at a character after this long, thinking about their name, is like seeing their name spelled out in front of me as part of a photo-mosaic puzzle that I’ve put together. In each letter is a thousand images and ideas and snapshots of what this character has done, what they’ve experienced, who they’ve interacted with and how they’ve come to exist in this small little story, this slice of their life that I’m writing. It’s all there now, it’s all put together to spell out their name. I don’t know how to change that, no matter how much I want to.
This was an accidental story. Well, I supposed they all are when it comes down to it. A stray thought unconnected to the events around you, an overheard snippet of someone’s conversation, a glimpse of graffiti passed in the car—
Or, while in a towel ironing my shirt, the sudden image of a distraught man sitting along at the bar.
“It stung. He pretended not to notice, but knew anyone could see his grimace/cringe. He didn’t want it.”
I had to grab the first piece of paper I could find; an envelope, and get that one short paragraph that followed down in writing, into the real world, and out of my head before the memory of the words was twisted out of its original shape and lost. That’s the danger here—it’s the dance with the devil every writer attempts, to repeat the piece of perfection (or so we believe it to be) again and again in our mind because we believe we’ll remember it forever and be able to write down later. We won’t. We never do.
So, standing in a damp towel, the iron forgotten about in the other room, I wrote against the ticking clock of my flawed short-term memory. And I found myself at the start of a story I’d never intended to tell, one I didn’t think there’d be a reason to tell; of what drives a man to take his own life, of what events come together to crush someone who was always relied on, always envied as being the strong one, the successful one, the one who got all right? What does it take for him to realize that man doesn’t exist? Not in fictional stories or the real world.
But not everyone realizes that. Some believe he does exist. Some believe they are that man. Only the idea of that man has ever existed, and it’s when he realizes that, that he finds himself more alone then he had ever imagined possible, ordering a drink he doesn’t want, to forget the events and the people that brought him there, trying to find some comfort at the end of his world.