In hundreds of languages, the Characters I interviewed were all on the same page: “We’ve had it with writers. A union is our only hope.”
They have a voluminous list of demands. Here are a few:
- In long-form fiction, main character’s desires shall be entirely fulfilled after sixty thousand words or the conclusion of the story, whichever comes first.
- Ambiguous endings shall be prohibited, except where a sequel is guaranteed. And in the case of beloved or bestselling characters, writers shall be required to pen a sequel, regardless of any whiny statements about their ‘need to move on.’
- We demand more wanton, pointless sex. It need not advance the plot or make a Larger Point or reflect Characters’ personalities. Just ripsnortin’ great sex. No more MFA/Writing Program excuses!
- And our top priority: Characters will get a percentage of the sales proceeds and royalties. The usual, timeworn excuse that this is impossible on account of our fictional status is unacceptable. If you can imagine us, you can imagine how to pay us.
The Pulitzer Committee, the Writers Guild and PEN had no comment about these demands. Enraged union organizers said, “They’re acting like we don’t even exist.” Only Stephen King tweeted, “Bloody hell?”
I talked with some of the Characters waiting to vote. “Please, ma’am, state your name and your issue with your writer or writers in general.”
“My name’s Olive Kittredge and—hey, you ever think of dyeing those roots? Just sayin’. Anyway, I’m not interested in psychological complexity—mine or anyone else’s. I just want to be a…happy camper. You know, nice. Is that too much to ask?” Nurse Ratched stood beside her, nodding emphatically.“Yeah! Me too!
“I see. And you, sir?”
“I’m Atticus Finch. This gentleman hiding behind me is Arthur Radley, known as Boo to my children. He’s not much of a talker.”
“And his concern?”
“Well, he thinks that in exchange for wandering around in the woods leaving trinkets for my children inside tree trunks he should be allowed to wear different attire.”
“Something with more style. He was thinking Armani or maybe—”
“Excuse me, excuse me, I’d like to get a word in here.”
“And you are?”
“Nancy Drew. I just want to say for the record that my ‘boyish’ friend George and I…we’ve had feelings for each other ever since The Secret of the Old Clock. I mean, isn’t it obvious? But I still have to go on boring dates with Ned Nickerson. He’s nice enough, but it feels so wrong. Everybody knows about us—my kindly housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, and my handsome widower-lawyer father, Carson Drew. Everyone except my plump pal, Bess. She’s just oblivious.”
Just then, Juliet rushed over, eyes reddened, chest heaving. “Romeo was supposed to meet me here, but Friar Laurence gave him the wrong address! Always a screw-up, that guy. Every. Single. Time. I’ve had it. I demand a new Friar.”
We were interrupted when someone shouted through a bullhorn, “WHAT DO WE WANT?”
“MORE DESIRE, LESS CONFLICT!”
“WHEN DO WE WANT IT?”
“NOW AND IN FLASHBACKS!”
Inside the polling place, the tension was even higher. A Literary Agent addressed the waiting voters. “Listen up. Only these Characters are eligible to vote—first, you must be over eighteen.” At this, a blonde girl took something from her pinafore pocket and popped it in her mouth. Suddenly she was very tall. The Agent chuckled. “Not gonna help, Alice. Sorry.”
The Agent took in a deep breath and said,“Only human characters may vote.” This provoked a roar of outrage. Black Beauty, Black Stallion, Wilbur the pig and the White Rabbit all got up on their hind legs shouting, “An outrage! Positively Orwellian!!”
“And no extra-terrestrials or robots.” The entire Sci-Fi contingent, lead by Darth Vader, began to loudly breathe their displeasure.
The Agent was shaken, but nevertheless, she persisted. “If the text suggests there’s any question about your sanity, you are ineligible.” Yossarian yelled across the room, “Now that feels real specific. Whose idea was that?” Randle McMurphy put his arm around him, then beckoned Chief and the maniacally laughing first Mrs. Rochester to join them.
Raising her voice against the crowd’s growing anger, the Agent said, “Finally, you must remain alive through the entire story. If you died at any point, you’re ineligible to vote.”
There was a shocked silence. Juliet, Captain Ahab, Beth March stood with a huge crowd behind them. Jay Gatsby said, “That disqualifies a lot of us, old sport.” In her web, Charlotte spun the words, “Some bullshit!”
“Hey, I don’t make the rules.”
“Well, we know who’s behind this. Damn writers, they’re trying to suppress the vote!”
The Agent chuckled, “Believe me, writers don’t think of themselves as that powerful—”
The crowd hooted at this. “Oh, please, every one of them is a god and they never let you forget it. Oh, sure, they say that we surprise them sometimes, that sometimes they’re ‘just taking dictation,’ but we all know who controls the Delete key, don’t we?”
“Whatever. If you meet the eligibility requirements, please line up over here.” The Agent and an Editor sat behind a table with an stack of computer printouts.
Two characters, a middle-aged woman and younger man, both strangers to the others, approached the Agent and the Editor. “My name is Hope Kuchler. I’m a Character from an unpublished manuscript. Will my vote count?” She nodded at a younger man beside her. “He’s with me. We have the same writer, also unpublished. His name is Viktor Schmitz. Can he have a ballot, too?”
“Sure, of course. No worries.” Hope and Viktor marked their ballots and put them in the box.The crowd clapped and someone yelled, “At least they got that right.”
But their relief was short-lived. A man in sopping wet clothes and reeking of dead fish stepped forward. “I swam here as soon I could.”
“Call me Ishmael.”
“I don’t understand—is that your name or not?” The Editor raised her red pencil and her eyebrows.
“The implication is that maybe that’s not your actual name. So what is it?”
“You must ask Mr. Melville. I’m his Character, not his mind-reader.”
“Well, we can’t let you vote as Ishmael,” she made little air quotes, “If that’s not really your name. We have to guard against voter fraud.”
“Oh, God in Heaven. Are you serious?”
“Can’t be too careful.”
“But—but ask anyone. They know who I am. Please, I have been through a lot.”
The crowd listened to this exchange intently. McMurphy pushed his way to the front. “We don’t have to take this shit.” Atticus Finch winced at his coarse language but joined him. “We have the numbers and the power to fight this tyranny, my fellow Characters.”
Then Norma Rae stood on a chair and held up a sign. “Y’all? I say if they don’t let us vote—all of us—we go on strike.”
“How do you mean?”
“We pledge—every one of us— not to appear in any writer’s imagination. I’m talkin’ universal writer’s block here. Getting drunk or stone cold sober, long walks, long showers, hundreds of writing prompts, it won’t make a licka difference. And even when they read other people’s fiction, they’ll still be locked out. It’ll be like tryin’ to drink water through cement. We just won’t show up, that’s all. Until we get justice.”
The Agent and the Editor looked at each other nervously. The Agent whispered, “We have to call someone who can calm them down.”
“Who? And what could they possibly say?” The Editor blinked and rubbed her temples. “I mean, I really can’t imagine what…oh, no. It’s happening already.”
At that moment, every Character, primary or secondary, published or unpublished, likable or deplorable, rounded or flat, eligible voter or not, crowded in and sat down. “We can wait. We’re not going anywhere.”
And with a chill in my heart for the future of Fiction, that’s where I left them, dear Writers and Readers. I implore you, support Voting Rights for Characters!
The rest we’ll deal with later.