Thursday, May 13, 2010

Exit

When I was quite a bit younger than I am now, I had an imaginary friend named Exit. I named him after the glowing green signs. Exit was probably the first word I learned to recognize by sight, but other than that, I have no idea why I named him "Exit."

Exit was a nice guy. He was a lot like me, in fact. Kind of quiet, unassuming, easy to get along with. Except, Exit didn't really have a face...or a body. That made him kind of boring to play with. It was always nice to know he was there, though. Aside from my sister's friends Junior and Cheepert, with whom I had a more casual acquaintance, that was about it for imaginary friends—until now.

When I finished the first draft of my second novel, I found myself feeling sad and pathetic. Sure, it was nice to write the final words, but after closing my laptop and leaving for my day job, I realized two things:
  • First, the book was finished. I couldn't wake up the next morning and think of new and interesting things to do with—or to—my characters. A close relationship with ten of my best friends had ended, or at least substantially changed.
  • Second, ten of my best friends weren't even real people.
Worse than that, they were people that I made up. I guess that doesn't make them any less real than, say, Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher, but at least those characters have actors to give them faces. My new imaginary friends are a lot like my first in that I can't touch them, and can't quite see their faces when I close my eyes, even though I can describe their features in detail.

Unlike Exit, this new group of friends aren't always easy to get along with. They all come from somewhere inside me, and I can relate to all of them on some level, but they aren't just reflections of myself. They're composites of experiences, people, feelings, and random flotsam from my life. And I care about them. I feel what they feel. I want what they want. I know them so intimately, I can speak their lines along with them, if not half a second before.

Long ago, I tried to write a story about Exit on an old manual typewriter. It was the first story I'd ever tried to type, and I only got three letters into it before hitting a snag. I spent about five minutes searching for the X key and then gave up, assuming that since the letter X isn't used very often, they'd simply left it off the typewriter. I felt a bit miffed.

Now I've written somewhere between 250 and 300 thousand words about imaginary people doing fantastic things. It's fun. It's a lot of fun. I could go on for the rest of my life creating new people and doing nasty things to them. Some of us never grow up.