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On Writing Lily

So I’ve mentioned before my project that I call the “Lily Project”, over at  It is a work of serial fiction, about a sixteen year old girl who has lost her memories and is trying to make her way in the world with that significant handicap – or is it a blessing?  It’s told from her perspective, as if she’s writing a diary.  I’ve been writing her for over a year now, with nearly daily entries, and quite honestly, it’s the one thing I’ve been able to stick with over that time.  I’ve had other projects that have failed or had to be put on the backburner for several reasons, but she hasn’t.  So far I’ve written about 200,000 words of that story, which, even accounting for some semi-duplicate posts due to patreon, still is about the length of one of the longer “Harry Potter” novels.

The most recent storyline has had her visiting Japan.

She had a blast there.  I won’t give details, you’ll have to read it yourself, but she went to Hiroshima (and bunny island too!), and Osaka, and had a really good time seeing the sites and learning about her heritage (she’s half Japanese).  She’s currently on her way home – at this moment, she’s probably somewhere over Alaska trying to sleep.

Writing a character like this is… eye-opening.  As i write her, I find myself learning more about myself as well.

For example, as I just mentioned, I’m sending her home from Japan today.  She should arrive back at around 8 PM local time, give or take.  But as I’m writing that, I’m finding that I’m stressing about whether she’ll return okay.  Let me set that stage:  This is a fictional character, which I am writing, and whether or not she will return okay is entirely in my control.  I could (perish the thought) have her plane crash, or any other less catastrophic thing happen.  She could get sick on the plane, a hundred different things could happen and I could make them happen at the figurative stroke of a pen.  But they won’t, because I’ve already ordained it so.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m worrying anyway, and I don’t understand that at all.  I have no reason at all to worry, she’s not even real, and the only life she even has is the life I give her by expressing her in media.  And yet, I’m stressing out a bit about it.  I probably won’t feel relief until she gets home safe.

How does that even work?

I think the reason for that is that she is real.  In a sense, anyway.

When I created her character, I gave her life.  I know this is not the case for every character an author creates, but Lily is a part of me.  I’m a 40-something guy you’d probably not look twice at, or if you did, you’d think I was some kind of tough guy and steer clear of me.  I’m not the strongest guy, but I know how to exude a “don’t fuck with me” vibe and I do it very effectively.  Lily is a sixteen year old half-Japanese girl who is quite deliberately the opposite of me in every way I could realistically make her.  I hate theme parks, she loves them.  I… well… I do like chocolate, but I don’t have a love affair with it like she does.  For the most part I could take or leave my family and to some degree even friends, she loves them and they make up a large part of her life.  She’s outgoing, bubbly, pretty happy, friendly, somewhat smart but only a little above average for a sixteen year old girl.  I’m a misanthrope who hasn’t yet met a person who I don’t think will disappoint me eventually, and to be quite frank, I’m just wondering when it will be all over and probably would consider it a relief.  And I’m so intelligent it makes me miserable most of the time.

And yet, that came from me.  And in my mind, she’s grown to be her own person, and I’ve grown to care about her, almost as if I would my own child.  In fact, a couple of times I’ve inserted myself into the story.  I’ve been careful not to do so in such a way as to become a deus ex machina, but I did give her a hundred bucks around Christmastime to buy her family presents (I’m the guy in the blue Cruze that she called “Santa”), and I’m also the “Texan Tinkerer” guy who she did an April fools thing for.  This isn’t in some ways unusual – I’ve heard of authors becoming so emotionally invested in their characters that they just have to put themselves in the story so that they can have a more direct relationship with their characters.  I don’t want to do that, but I could see it.  That’s a drive that makes perfect sense to me, even though I don’t think that would make sense for Lily.

Sometimes she even does things I’m not expecting.  The story arc where she went to Orlando…  I really didn’t want her to find a boyfriend.  I thought she’d be a more interesting character single, and I also thought that closed a few potential storylines out, at least for the short term.  But she met him, and she wanted him.  It was really hard for me to keep her from going absolutely nuts, but after a kind of internal negotiation, I came up with a solution that made everyone, well, if not happy, then at least content.  But that’s how teenagers are, right?  For me, it was very important that she be a decent role model for any kids that might be reading, but I also didn’t want to over moralize her character.  She’s a teenager with hormones, and it was difficult to keep them in check.  But I pulled it off.

See, I’m talking as if she has her own personality and argues with me about these things, and that’s the thing.  She does.  I shape her personality, but that only goes so far – sometimes she surprises me, and I have to work with her, or she becomes very hard to write.  It’s almost like she goes off and sulks.

Here’s to another year of writing Lily, and…  what will I learn about her, and myself, as I continue to write her?

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