by Taylor Turner
When I’m creating a character, they start off with just a thought or an idea of some heroine to lead the readers through the story. A leading protagonist from my most recent story is Kristen Young. I had a general idea of the plotline, and all I knew about Kristen was that I wanted her to be a strong independent woman. As her character develops, I visualize Kristen’s age, characteristics, ethnicity, and personality. It was as if she developed naturally as I inserted her into the plot.
There is a particular “realness” that I, as a writer, begin to attribute to my characters as their plot advances; they become less opaque and more defined. How might they react in a given situation? How might they express themselves in dialogue? On another level, my writing effort is not just about creating what I hope will be a good story. It is also about giving the protagonists their “lives”—periods of “existence” that they might find worthy of them. They are the product of my brain synapses working in some creative concert transformed into words on a typed page.
Of course, as a real human being, I know Kristen is purely fictional and has no objective reality other than what takes place in my mind. But sometimes, I do tend to get too entranced in my own daydreams. So much so that I forget everything I was doing before. I recall playing a video game called What Remains of Edith Finch. I remember following along the peculiar case of Lewis Finch, who was recently sober, working at a cannery while his psychiatrist narrated. His mind began to wander as he did his dull job, daydreaming and losing himself as a great prince. He knew it was just his imagination, so he thought he could do whatever he wanted. He could conquer kingdoms, save the people, and start drifting away from reality until the dream had become his reality: “My imagination is as real as my body.”
This is a reminder to me that we can get lost in our own daydreams. Leading too astray from reality can be dangerous. I tend to lose track of time and become “scatterbrained,” as my mom calls it. I'm left in my own state of Dazed and Confused. I can't think clearly or perform to the best of my abilities. I begin to fall in love with my own fictional world. It starts to look better than the “real world” and pretty soon I wish I could also join the peaceful world of my imagination.
Writing gives me the power to alter reality, view things as I desire inside my mind, and bring them to life. It releases serotonin into my brain, feeling euphoric happiness that leaves me weightless in the calm void of relief and peace. I’ve never lost a sense of reality as Lewis Finch did, but I do understand the need for imagination and the feeling of complete freedom to do the impossible. When typing each word, your possibilities are endless. I make the rules in this universe when I have no control over the real world. It allows me to express myself in ways I cannot in my regular life. I can add characteristics of myself into a character, giving me the freedom to do things I normally wouldn't do but have always wanted to.
I wasn’t always this powerful. My family and I didn't exactly grow up poor, but we definitely weren't considered as affluent as the kids that I used to attend elementary school with. We were living pretty comfortably until my mother was illegally fired from her job for being pregnant and certain luxuries were inaccessible. We considered suing her boss until his company went bankrupt after her boss was arrested for substance abuse. No matter what we went through or the obstacles we had to get through, my parents always supported me.
By grade three, it was unavoidable that I transferred from my elementary school Firm Foundations Christian Academy in Arnold, Missouri to my modest public school in Cahokia, Illinois. I still felt like an outcast. I felt like a nerd who always carried a book in hand. While my classmates played on the merry-go-round and pushed each other onto the powdery pea gravel, I was alone sitting on a withered red and yellow painted bench, getting pricked by the splinters, reading The Boy in Striped Pajamas for the second time.
Thirteen was the hardest time for me. During this period, everyone transitions from childhood to adulthood. As a result of changes and emotions, they are at their most vulnerable, causing social pressures, which result in kids behaving in the meanest way possible. Their self-esteem is at its lowest and they feel insecure, so they tend to lash out at someone else to distract them from their own problems.
I wish I had known this fact at the time because it would have saved my own self-esteem. I myself have gone through the gawky and awkward stages, making me feel very insecure and self-conscious about my body. My classmates saw my insecurities and used them against me. As a result, they made fun of my skin tone, my short height, my pudginess, and the worst thing of all, the size of my breasts (which I developed early). I was called many names, such as Snow White, Muffin Top, Dwarf, DD or Double D, and the most disgusting China Girl because of my squinty eyes. While I didn't mind these insults much at the time other than a few headaches and annoyances, growing up with them left me with many insecurities.
It wasn’t until I was thirteen when I began to create storylines and write my own fairytales, did I truly find myself. I started to love myself and my creative mind, even the things I didn’t like. I finally accepted my “flaws” and felt comfortable in my own skin. Writing allowed me to let my imagination go wild. My first narrative was about a sailboat—of all things—which set my writing passion in motion. I felt empty and alone in the academy that rested in the middle of a suburban prerogative in Midwestern America, drowning in a sea of privilege and entitlement, stuck in between the diversity of social classes. All the pressures and competition I felt in the academy were borderline disgraceful. Many parents whispered to their children, “You’re better than everyone else. Be the best.” Many of my classmates stuck their noses so high, they couldn’t see me on the ground.
After discovering myself and my newfound passion, I started to come out of my shell and interact more with my classmates. Now that my eyes were open, I could see what was right in front of me. There was more diversity and rich cultures in my public school. I was surrounded by colorful personalities, sincere characters, and positive and exciting energy. I appreciated everything the school offered me, from extracurricular activities to genuine support and understanding from my teachers. I made friends that I remain close to this day.
By the time I was fifteen, I started to suffer from anxiety. Something as simple as going to the grocery store was overwhelming which always led to three-hour alone time. It was ultimately decided I would be homeschooled, not just because of bullying and anxiety, but because my parents believed I needed a better educational system. It was decided after the beginning of the pandemic was taking over the world. It was challenging at first, not going to school with my friends, but I learned to love it. It was definitely much harder than regular school, writing essays every week, but it kept me busy. It was easier dealing with my anxiety and I was less induced to panic attacks. I received one-on-one attention and my grades succeeded past my previous grades in public school. It allowed me to have control and freedom of my time and energy. By making adult decisions and choices, I became more independent and educated.
But there were some negatives to being homeschooled. My social life was diminished and I didn’t get to experience typical school life and events. I was limited to certain opportunities because I didn’t have a school that offered them to me. I was left feeling like I missed out on a lot of things. That was my ultimate decision on going to college. My desire to be more social and start a future outweighed all my anxieties.
I found that developing stories was almost therapeutic. I was able to release all my emotions and energy and dedicate myself to something bigger than myself. When I visit my cousin, who is also a writer, we sit down on her Monster High bed sheets and share our latest obsession. It's the best feeling to make something that people can enjoy and love as much as I do. There's nothing like some music and empty pages to make all the pressures and stress slip away.