Writers are often asked what happens to their characters after the last page of their novel. Their responses divide them into two camps.
Camp 1: Nothing happens. Characters are the construct of my imagination. Once I have written the last word of their story, they cease to exist.
Camp 2: Of course I know what happens! Mike’s living in Bermuda, he has four year old twin boys and a ten year old daughter and a black lab called Sooty and he’s been divorced twice and he’s currently training to be a scuba diving instructor. Oh, and he had a spinach and watermelon smoothie for breakfast because he’s trying to get healthy.
Although I admire the conviction of both approaches, I find it difficult to identify fully with either.
Sure, my characters are the constructs of my imagination. And sure, the specifics of their stories end when I write the last chapter of their fictional lives. But there’s more to them too. Through writing them, I’ve come to love them –I hope my readers feel that same love when they meet them in my novels. And when we love something, it comes alive. And we care – we want to know what’s going to happen to them. In fact, it’s this awesome imaginative transaction that takes place between the reader and writer, which allows a character to come to life. Characters I have read and loved are still with me now: they walk alongside me through life, they make me see life differently as I grow up, as I gain new experiences, as I come to understand more about the world.
And yet I feel a little inadequate when I hear the detailed ‘post’ (rather than ‘back’) stories my fellow writers have for their creations. I know that Milo’s around; I’m not sure what he had for breakfast today – or whether he still likes Fluff on Toast.
So, I guess I need to start a camp of my own, one that falls somewhere between the two outlined above.
Milo is still alive for me. He always will be. And from the kind comments I’ve received from readers, they feel the same too. Do I know the specifics of where he is and what he is doing now – and tomorrow – and when he’s fifty? Not really. But I’m sometimes given clues. Like when Milo gives me a wink through a young man sitting across from me on the train who has the exact same voice I imagine Milo to have – and he’s with his girlfriend. That makes me happy. At other times, Milo comes to me through another fictional world. I have the slightly fanciful idea that once you’ve created a character and set him free, they like to hop between real and fictional worlds. (You may see Alice in Wonderland in Starbucks this afternoon – and then you, next year, you might see her making jam tarts in The Great British Bake-Off – that sort of thing).
It’s in a parallel fictional world that I recently spotted Milo. A dear friend (and future film director extraordinaire), Illias Thoms, recommended Hugh and I watch Daredevil.
I was reluctant. I’m not a huge superhero-movie fan. I get a little bored in the long action sequences. I worry that the characters will be two-dimensional. But I trust Illias’s judgement, so I gave it go. And I’m so glad I did because, in the character of Matthew Murdock, I got to spend some time with Milo again.
Matthew Murdock (the Daredevil) is different from Milo Moon in many ways. Milo is a gentler soul – I don’t think he’d ever fight with his fists or go in for martial arts. And I don’t think he’d like to live in Hell’s Kitchen very much, he’s far too attached to Slipton. But they do have some things in common. Matthew Murdock went blind as a child and has used this disability as an advantage: like Milo, he works to sharpen his senses so that he hears more, touches more, smells more, tastes more and, ironically, ‘sees’ more than people like you and me. This allows him to spot inconsistencies and, crucially, to notice when things are amiss. Milo ‘saw’, before anyone else, that there was something wrong with his Gran’s nursing home. Matthew Murdock, sees all kinds of things that are wrong with what he calls, ‘my city.’ And both act on what the see: they show courage in exposing those who hurt others and work to make their small patch of the world that little bit better.
And, of course, Milo Moon and Matthew Murdock have eerily similar names.
Last night, I watched the last episode of series one and was relieved to see that Matthew Murdock, like Milo Moon, will live another day.
Where will Milo crop up next? I’m not sure. But I can’t wait to bump into him and, like a doting grandmother, to hug him a little too hard and to exclaim, ‘My, haven’t you grown!’