Writing involves a lot of waiting. If you’re a fiction writer, you know exactly what I mean. First we wait for the spark of an idea, that miraculous vibration felt in our core when a song or an image or a turn of phrase tells us this is the one. This is the kernel of truth upon which we can build more truths and a fully inhabited world. Yes, this could be a novel. We snatch up the nearest pen and paper to jot ideas before they dissipate. To miss recording them would mean more waiting.
We wait for characters to inhabit the premise we imagine. As in forming real-life friendships, we invest time in getting acquainted. One cannot walk up to a person on the street and say, “Let’s be friends starting right now.” Imagine the reaction.
Without knowing who they are and what they’re all about, how can a writer begin plotting a novel? To quote Henry James, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” I’ll now contradict myself by saying it’s through plunging ahead with writing that characters reveal more of themselves to their creator.
Sometimes it’s hard to wait, so we tell characters who they must be in order to serve the story we want them to tell. After all who is working for who?
While writing some portions of my current novel in progress, I set a red velvet chair directly facing mine. The character spoke her story to me. Later when I wrote the antagonists’ chapters, he demanded a stiffer chair set at a 45 degree angle. Not a fan of women, he refused to face me directly. (Sometimes, I do work for them.)
As we wait for these details of character to trickle in, we think of story and plot. What events impact the characters? We know how they’ll operate in this world, how they’ll vex each other and the conflicts that will cause them to act and react. And as they bump around and interfere with each other and decide how to best handle things, we better understand these characters we created and how they’ll push the story to places we hadn’t yet imagined. We can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Waiting sounds passive, but it’s an active verb for writers. Waiting is not done lying down. Waiting is hours of research, casting nets in to the world and trusting that we’ll haul in a good catch. We attune ourselves to synchronicity, the universe’s guiding hand or what ever you choose to call it.
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“For all the novel features characters that are alone, it is a story driven by human connections (…) With vivid descriptions, natural dialogue and in-depth characterization, Tuinman compels us to look beyond the surface. The ending is triumphant.” –Historical Novel Society
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