Yesterday, I sat in the kitchen with my notebook and my pen with the rubber zombie head cap, jotting down notes for the next chapter in the second draft of what I’m tentatively calling A Hunter of Dreams. it sounds a bit cheesy, I know. Possibly a lot. But as I sat there and made my main character stuff herself with fried chicken and garlic bread in anticipation of a torturous death I realised I was thinking about her as a real person. I thought about all of them as real people.
Now, this is a wonderful feeling, which usually makes an appearance in draft two. Here are these people who are now more than just human sketches. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. They are not necessarily the nicest or most interesting people in the world although I happen to think that being able to change reality in your sleep is pretty interesting. But they are real, as real as I am.
As wonderful as this is, it is also a little scary, a little eerie; this feeling — or delusion if we’re being accurate — blurs the lines between reality and fiction. So I thought back to how it all began and realised it began with an idea and a face. The face of a real person.
The idea came from a dream, as they usually do. I have a very cooperative brain when it comes to story ideas if not much else. I had this dream about a bridge stretching into the sea and dipping under the water and yeah, it was the Øresund Bridge that I never got to see up close and my brain was being nice about it, letting me see it in a dream, and so on. But that dream led to the what-if that marks the beginning of every story. What if there was a guy who could dream things into and out of reality and he just accidentally dreamed away all the children in Copenhagen?
I wrote that story and I wrote several others, and I had a neat plan to turn this into a series of semi-related stories, Philip Marlow-style but without the crimes. It didn’t happen. Instead, I saw a face from the past.
Once upon a time, when I lived in England, I had a friend, Anna. Anna was Russian, she had her own place (I lived with an Italian family) and I spent a lot of time at her place. Anna had a friend and this friend was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She was the embodiment of the petite brunette archetype, complete with the lovely face no one could resist — the dark, almond-shaped eyes, the button nose, the prominent cheekbones. I suppose some cliche like “Northern beauty” would be in order here. She was also charming, smart, and independent. Her name was Valeria. I saw her face while I was trying to visualise the villain in my story. And the story changed.
I’m halfway through the second draft of A Hunter of Dreams. The Valeria of the novel has a lot in common with the real-life Valeria the way I remember her. I have no idea how the real-life Valeria turned out. I hope she’s happy whatever she’s doing. And I’m really grateful I met her because otherwise I’d have had to base my Valeria on someone made up. It was all in the face. Valeria had the face of a hunter.
It’s funny I have never before based a character on a person I’ve met in real life. It’s not because I don’t know any inspiring people. I know a lot and I’m sure I draw on their characters all the time. I just do it unconsciously, I suppose. I certainly don’t think about it when I write a character. Physically, though, I tend to use actors I like or dislike as well as purely imaginary individuals as the story develops. Once it’s done, I leave it to the readers to imagine the characters any way they like. Not this time.
Someone on Twitter recently asked the writing community if they would be offended or pleased if a fellow writer wrote them into a book as a criminal. I don’t know about the others but I would definitely take this as a compliment. I have no idea how Valeria would take my writing her into The Hunter of Dreams. We weren’t particularly close. I was too shy and she was too glamourous.
I can only hope, if the book makes it to publication and the real Valeria ever finds out about it, that she wouldn’t be too offended. My Valeria is not a nice person but I love her nevertheless, just as I love Thomas who is arguably even worse than her. I love them both and I love all the others around them. They are all real. Funny how so much reality can start with an idea and a face, right?