My muse showed up early, and he was mad. Livid. He pushed open the door and made straight for my recliner, the one with the knitted blanket that my cousin made when she was twelve. She had a thing for knitting then. I don’t think she does anymore.
My muse slumped into the chair and glared at me. “I think it’s garbage. A complete waste of time.”
I shrugged and leaned back against the couch, wondering just how long it would take to convince the guy. “How so?”
My muse raised an eyebrow. “Aside from a complete lack of plot, you haven’t got any characters yet, and I--”
I sighed, exasperated. ‘We’ve been over this. The plot will come through later. It’s not always about structure, you know.”
“Oh, right. It’s a character-driven story, you say. You always say that.” He eyed me with evident disgust, then glanced toward the kitchen. “Have you got anything to drink?”
I rolled my eyes and stood up to get him a Mountain Dew. “The story revolves around the people who’re telling the story. If that’s what you want to call character-driven, fine.” I pulled open the refrigerator. My supply was running low--only three twelve-packs of the stuff left. I grabbed a can and tossed it to him. “What’s wrong with that?”
He popped the top and took a gulp, then wiped his mouth. “Nothing. It would be fine, if you had some real characters.”
“I’ve got real characters!”
“What you’ve got is a bunch of lunatics!”
I sat down across from him. “How can you say that? Who’s a lunatic?”
He leaned forward and swiped a printout of my manuscript off the coffee table. “Well, first there’s this girl Jenni. She’s what, seventeen? Not bad. Nice name--I like the way you use an ‘i’ at the end instead of a ‘y.’ You’ll remember, that was my idea.” He grinned and took another swallow of soda.
I had to admit he was right about that. “Yeah, I remember. Go on.”
“She’s a high school student, which is normal for her age. Obviously no dyslexia or learning disorders. She drives a 1996 Ford station wagon, enjoys barbecues and pizza, and spends her Saturdays at the mall with friends. All perfectly normal.”
I was missing the point. “Yeah, and?”
He tossed the papers down and glared at me. “Our dear Jenni, however, also has a collection of Japanese lanterns hanging in her bedroom. Japanese lanterns. Nobody has Japanese lanterns. Nobody. Not only that, she wears a blue beanie hat everywhere she goes. Blue. You are familiar with the color, I expect? Have you ever seen a girl with a bright blue beanie hat? Also, she’s obsessive-compulsive and doesn’t save leftover food. She washes her hands before and after every meal--a fact you sneakily managed to fit into the story on more than one instance, I’ve noticed.”
“So? It’s who she is. It’s her.”
I sighed and slumped back in my seat. “Okay, so maybe Jenni’s a bit unstable. So what.”
“She’s not the only one.” He leafed through the manuscript again. “It seems you have another female character, a Stephanie.” He glared at me. “What’s up with this girl?”
He raised his eyebrows and skimmed the sheet. “It seems to me you’ve done nothing more than recreate the character Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame.”
I started to protest, then stopped. “Well, Hermione is an interesting personality study.”
“No, you saw her in the movie and thought she was cute.”
“I did not!”
“Don’t argue with me. I live in your subconscious mind. I know everything you think.”
I crossed my arms and scowled. “Humph. What else?”
He flipped to a new page. “Drey Lucas. Now this guy is off his rocker for sure.”
“I beg to differ--”
“Just look at his name! ‘Drey?’ What is that? Did you just make that up?”
“For your information, wise guy, I did. It’s called being creative.”
“Huh. It’s called stupid where I come from.” Another gulp of Mountain Dew. “But that’s not the worst. It seems your Drey--we’ll call him Mr. Lucas, for my stomach’s sake--”
“Oh come on--”
“--has got himself a dysfunctional home life.”
I was getting angry. “Some people do.”
“Not like this. Apparently he lives with his uncle and his cousin, who both hate him. Am I detecting another vague Harry Potter spin-off here?”
“Fine. At any rate, he’s a dork. A total nerd. His dialogue is lilted and offbeat--”
“Are you saying you want all my characters to speak the same?”
“Of course not! I’ll thank you to stop jumping to conclusions.” He sighed and shook his head, as if dealing with an impatient child. “All I’m saying is that the man isn’t right. He’s a bit off-kilter, if you get my meaning, and could use some serious tuning.”
I sighed. “Okay, okay. So I tune up the characters. You know, burn Jenni’s lanterns, mix up Stephanie’s personality, give Drey--uh, Mr. Lucas--a better name. Then what? Is that it?”
My muse shook his head, swallowing more soda. “Like I said, there’s a total absence of plot. Character-driven or not, you’ve got to have a solid story. And this--“ he gestured toward the manuscript “--this is just awful. Did you even outline this?”
I scowled at him. “You may be the physical manifestation of my creativity, but you aren’t my brain. You can’t tell me how to write. You’re just here to help me get ideas. I know all kinds of technique and stuff that you don’t know.”
He laughed through a mouthful of Mountain Dew. I wanted to get up and slug him a good one, but I knew he could beat me in a fair fight, so I stayed put and sulked. He’s really not easy to get along with. I waited till he got himself under control, then said, “You don’t believe me?”
He laughed again. “Not remotely. Name one thing you know that you think I don’t.”
“Um, well, I know how to format an MLA standard document.”
“That’s nice. That’s very nice.” He proceeded to nod and smile, the way you nod and smile at a kindergartner who is proudly showing you a bunch of crayon scribbles on construction paper. Again, I fought the urge to punch his lights out. He couldn’t possibly know a thing about MLA format, I told myself. He’s just a muse.
For that matter, how could I be sure he knew anything about writing at all?
There was a knock on the doorframe, and my analytical side stepped in. “Top of the morning to the two of you,” he said, smiling. “Is it not a most glorious day out of doors?”
I jumped up to greet him. “I’m sure glad you’re here. This jerk is doing a number on my manuscript.”
“Hey!” My muse looked furious. “I resent such derogative statements. In fact, that’s your problem. You’re a weasel, plain and simple.”
I turned on him. “Says you! You’re just mad because you’ve got to have everything your way! You’re the obsessive-compulsive one!”
He leapt to his feet. “Call me unstable, will you?”
My analytical side stepped between us. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, please, let’s not fight.”
“Tell him that!” my muse and I both shouted.
“See?” my muse said. “All you do is take the words I’m trying to say, and then have the nerve to call them your own! All your ideas come from me!”
“Yeah, well, your ideas would never be seen if it weren’t for me writing them!” I said.
My analytical side said, “And neither of you would be alive if I weren’t here to deal with the finances and things. Now, let’s all sit down and figure this out, shall we?”
My muse sat, smoldering. I slumped onto the couch, and my analytical side joined me. “Now,” he said, “I’ve read your manuscript as well, and I’ve got some advice of my own. But first--” he grinned and nodded toward the can of Mountain Dew “--would you happen to have another of those?”
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