My ghostwriting client is returning to New York this week and I’ll be spending a great deal of time with her, working on her memoir. It’s a big project that was begun a couple of years ago and is now in its final phase. I’m very excited.
Ghostwriting is a fabulous exercise for a writer. In fiction, the writer creates the universe and the characters. Often, the characters surprise the writer taking the story in an unexpected direction. Ghostwriting this very real story put me in a new position. My role was to facilitate the narrative while not directing it. Hovering in the background, shaping the story while not imposing my own esthetic. I was a ghost, a behind-the-scenes storyteller with a real-life character talking to me along the way.
As I’ve said before, my own creations have, on occasion, said or done something that wasn’t part of my original plan for the story. I’ve tried, but it’s hard to argue with a character you’ve created. They can be stubborn.
Working with a real character — the protagonist of her own story with a selection of real people in the roles of lovers, teachers, villains, supporters, detractors… — I’m able to TALK to my character. We text, email, Skype and have face time via iPhones too. We’ve haggled and wrangled and worried our way through different ways of telling her story.
It’s hard work.
I think it’s been worthwhile. The most interesting part for me has been the creation of her voice on the page. In person, her humor shines through even the saddest and most distressful parts of her story, but our first draft replicating her actual words was simply too depressing. The words on the page were her words but her heart was missing, so I tried to capture her light touch in a second version that emphasized the funny parts of her story with an ironic voice that was, frankly, more mine than hers. We went back to the drawing board and collaborated closely on a literary version of her actual persona. I think we’ve nailed it!
It’s her, but I’m there too! I’m haunting the book, helping the reader navigate through an unusual life story. I’m looking forward to ghosting it toward those magic words: THE END.