alexandra alger


Anyone know a good character plumber?

The Canadian writer Sheila Heti wrote recently in New York magazine about an ah-ha moment she had about writing many years ago. She was in her early 20s, writing a short story that would become the wonderfully titled The Princess and the Plumber. At one point a frog is giving love advice to the plumber. She remembered feeling “an inner obligation” to continue the conversation between the two, even though she didn’t know what else they had to say to each another. “Then I suddenly realized that there was nobody looking over my shoulder, and that nobody had any greater authority over what should happen next than I did.” The conversation ended; the plumber turned and walked away.

Don’t you love the idea of a frog giving love advice to a plumber? I can’t wait to find this short story! (It’s in a collection of Heti’s called The Middle Stories, published in 2002 and reprinted, with additional stories, in 2012.)

I know many writers who feel their characters take charge and all they as authors can do is follow along. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” one friend told me not long ago. “And then the doorbell rang!”
I like to think I have ultimate authority over my characters. If only they weren’t such an independent bunch—sometimes terse and inscrutable. I have to coax thoughts and feelings out of them, burrow into their furtive minds. Every writer has to be a plumber of sorts, an un-clogger of minds and hearts.

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