The Bureau of Character Complaints is Now Open


Apologies all around... That's what I'd owe them. Long diatribes about how I regretted the pain and anguish I caused them...

Sincere explanations for why I snuffed their parents... Or robbed them 14 times at gunpoint... Or launched them into space without a decent pair of shoes... I'd be moved to deep professions about how I never planned to do it again.

Lies, all of them, of course. Because I'd do it again just the same in an eye-blink.

But they wouldn't need to know that, would they?

Still... Yesterday, as I laughed manically, plonking down yet another barrier to peace in my main character's way, I thought:

What if, as writers, we really did have to answer to the people we created, for the choices we made in their lives?

Why, one of my friends' heroes has been stuck on a Wild West desert plateau for years.

I think he'd have some interesting things to say about that.

"Ya murdered my family. You put my gal in jeopardy. Then you killed ma horse and left me on a narrow precipice with no food 'n water...

"Did you know about my inner ear problem? Did think about ma fear o' heights? Did you know I was allergic to prairie grass and gopher dander? Did you ever bother to ask me about that? Did ya? DID YA?!

"NAW! You were too busy gittin' all distracted with fact checkin' and Feelin' the Muse and creatin' historical credibility and atmosphere way th' hell back again in Chapter One! Chapter One, fer Pete's Sake! Them's is done in Chapter One, Lady! Find closure and let it go!

"So now, my equilibrium's been off for five years, my sinuses are a-killin' me and I've been balancing on a six-inch ledge while the buzzards peck my head. Goldurn it, woman-- git me offa this rock!"

I imagine there'd have to be a Bureau of Character Complaints to handle it all.

And I can see it now. There'd be a reception room just filled with impatient, surly and world-weary fictional characters. Some suffering from gunshot wounds. Some in mourning clothes. Some undead. Some just really pissed.

A little girl with a doll would step into the room.

Little Girl: "Hello. I'm Sara Crewe. I'd like to register a complaint. My father got amnesia in World War I and forgot all about me. So I was left penniless and forced to work as a servant girl in a cold attic and nearly died of mistreatment. Things worked out for the best at the end, but I would like to get an apology from Frances Hodgson Burnett for the middle of the book."

Receptionist: (sighing) "Sign in here and take a seat."

After a lot of rubber stamping of paperwork, the receptionist would finally stand up and announce to the collective before her:

Receptionist: "Okay-- in the interest of efficiency, we're going to break you into groups. Abused orphans over here...

(And half the cast from Dickens' books would move that direction, along with Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket's Baudelaire children, and young Miss Crewe)

Receptionist: "White hat cowboys over here... Misunderstood black hat cowboys over there...

"Native Americans treated as cannon fodder? Here are some towels and you follow Dr. Green, please...

"Characters with unsatisfying endings looking for rewrites, that room...

"If you committed murder and feel it was out of character, or you have a more believable alibi than your author gave you credit for, that room there..."

"Unless you're a Butler.... Then you need to go to Cliched Killers in room 12b...

"No, not you, Mr. Jeeves. You go to Overintelligent Servants Purposefully Stationed Far Below Their Capabilities Yet Illogically Content with Lack of Upward Mobility. Just follow those Shakespearean court jesters-- yes, they'll show you where to go."

Ah, yes. We would all have a lot to answer for, wouldn't we?

Do you know a character with a complaint-- or do you have a character who needs some closure? Send 'em along!

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23 comments:

The Mother said...

Just think of the fictional bureaucracy you would have to produce to deal with this problem?

And then you'd have a fictional complaint desk employee, who will develop her own issues.

And SHE'LL have to register a complaint.

It could be one of those never-ending mirror tricks.

Jenn Thorson said...

The Mother- Oh, yes. I imagine the employees there would be exhausted and a bit bitter. Perhaps the place could be manned by minor characters in books looking for some extra work on the side between printings.

Shawn said...

I have a character who has been (unknowingly) sharing a beer with his wife's murderer for about four years now. I'm sure he's too plastered now to care, but he's going to be LIVID when he finds out the truth.

Lisa (Jonny's Mommy) said...

"My name is Mary and I'm very bothered that Frances Hodgson Burnett made me a spoiled, sour-faced brat in The Secret Garden. First she tortured Sarah with taking her father away and then she left me a bitch living on a Moor in England. Yes, sure, I became nice later, but before that I was miserable and I lost my parents. That sucked. I'll take $2.5 million in personal damages and for my emotional strife. Thank you very much."

Mike said...

Steven King is going to have a LOT to answer for I'd say.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shawn- Ha, yeah, you're going to have to take that guy to dinner-- possibly a nice microbrewery-- and try to smooth things over. (By the way, I bet you could write a great novel.)

Lisa- Yes, poor Mary went through quite a bit. Neglected by her mother and father who spent too much time partying, then shuffled off to a cold mansion with grouchy Miss Medlock... Ms. Hodgson Burnett has some 'splaining to do all around!

Mike- I would say you're 100% right on that one. Humans... pets like rabid dogs and buried/reburied cats... Yup, it's gonna be BIG.

Melanie said...

My name is Mrs Tiggy Winkle and I say Beatrix Potter has a lot to answer for. Now I know I'm not the most gorgeous laundry woman who ever lived, but REALLY! protraying me as a hedge hog was just going too far!

freetheunicorns said...

That's quite a thought. As great as it is, damn would I have a lot of explaining to do.

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- er, ahem, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle-- given the beloved status of the hedgehog in the UK, with numerous groups concerned about its preservation and safety, we believe there has been a misunderstanding and that your hedgehogginess was, in fact, meant as a compliment.... Next!

FreetheUnicorns-- Hey, you and me both, Chowner. You and me both. :)

Skye said...

Oh dear, I think if I were running that desk I would put down a mouse trap for a buzzer. You know, instead of that little bell you hit for service, it would have to be a mouse trap, yep it definitely would! Every time I'd hear a character scream, I'd come out from the back room, fill in the forms necessary, reset the "buzzer" and lead the character off to his/her necessary destination. Yep, if they're going to complain to me, they'll have to have a reason, even if the only reason they have is for the "buzzer" :D

Jenn Thorson said...

Skye- You don't by any chance, um, already work in the customer service industry do you? :)

Melanie said...

I probably have a couple of my own characters that I would have to be answerable to as well.

I've left a minor character by the name of Marvin sitting on a deck railing drinking beer for months. And poor Lana has been shoveling out of the same snowbank for years! Guess they might like to get a life, huh?

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Somewhere right now, Marvin has terrible indigestion and Lana's back is killing her.... They're both about on their last nerve.

Good luck with that! :)

Chris @ Maugeritaville said...

What a brilliant idea, Jenn. You should write this as a play. I'm serious. Maybe treat it as a trial, or just a therapy session.

"Dear Mr. Steinbeck,

I didn't mean to kill the lady, John. I just liked how soft her dress was, felt just like the mouse in my pocket. I know them other guys was mad, but George woulda fixed it up okay like he done before. And then I woulda got to tend the rabbits like George says. Why did you hafta go and make George shoot me in the head?

From,

Lenny Smalls

P.S. Tell me again about the rabbits."

Jenn Thorson said...

Chris-- (Sniff), poor Lenny... oh, the authorial guilt, the guilt...

Heh, nicely done!

nipsy said...

Imagine it. Every horror novel written with a female killed. You'd have thousands of them asking "But why did I have to answer the door/phone? Did I really have to run upstairs with no exits"?

I'd pay for this book of complaints.

Jenn Thorson said...

Nipsy- Yup, that whole "Why Did I Investigate That Noise and Then Twist My Ankle On My High Heels" genre. :)

Kirsten said...

LOL! Great concept!

ReformingGeek said...

Alas, our poor characters. They have such hard lives! Personally, I hate characters that never seem to stop or get tired. They get up at 4:30 am and run at full steam until way past midnight trying to be heroes and then have the energy for hot sex. Ha! Give me a friggin' break!

Jenn Thorson said...

Kirsten- Thanks, and thanks for stopping by!

Reforming Geek- Oh, I know. I've actually consciously make sure my characters did things like eat and sleep-- or at least implied it-- because not everyone can be Jack Bauer. :)

Skye said...

Does being a restaurant cook count Jenn? 'Cause if it does, then yep I do :D

And yes, I do own a little mousetrap here at home on which I have painted "Complaint department, press button for service" and I glued a button onto the release mechanism. For some reason, no one ever has complaints to air around here though, I wonder why!?! ;)

Jenn Thorson said...

Skye- Heh, I'd say it probably counts. :)

Nooter said...

complaint received from cat in the hat:
"i do not like green eggs and ham"