Process 04on August 30, 2011 at 12:10 am
We’re coming to the end of Chapter One, here, which – as Rick pointed out on our weekly status update phone call this morning – has really been one long reveal. We started in “tight,” as they say, on Lady S’ shoes, and since then have steadily been pulling back further and further to show the wider context, to hint at the expanse of the world. I think it’s a fair read. I think it’s an accurate read.
It was also entirely unintentional. Or, more specifically, it was entirely consciously unintentional.
Resorting to yet another anecdote – I do this a lot, I realize, because, again, I can only speak for myself, and thus, uhm… well, I shall. Anyway, some years back I was on a panel at a mystery convention in Bristol. The panel was – I think – about process, and I remember one of the audience asking some question or other about characters “coming to life” and one of the panelists went off on this poor woman for even to dare suggest such a thing. He held forth at some length about this, and the thrust was, essentially, that he felt it was bullshit, that if any writer was actually hearing their characters in their head, they needed help, and they needed it fast. He was emphatic on the matter; his characters didn’t do a damn thing unless he wrote it; he was the master of his domain. Characters didn’t control him, he controlled them. He got a lot of laughs.
And I could see where he was coming from, and in many ways – in the most literal of ways – he is correct.
In others, he’s wrong. He’s just dead wrong.
Because it’s not that simple.
Like many things when one talks about writing, the idea of Characters Coming to Life is often, and perhaps even actively, misinterpreted, right up there with Write What You Know. I’ve said before that Write What You Know refers to an emotional truth, not a literal one; if it did, you’d never have books like The Forever War or, more recently and more popularly, A Game of Thrones. If I only wrote what I knew, there’d be no Lady Sabre, never mind the several hundred super-hero comics I’ve penned.
Characters live. They live through the author, and if the author is extraordinarily fortunate, they live through the audience, as well. Fan fiction is the most ready evidence of this, and fan fiction has existed for millennia; all the internet did was make it that much easier to share. But you spend enough time with anything, you take it into you, you make it a part of yourself. This feeds back to what I’ve said about role-playing; there’s a reason gamers love to talk about what they did – they did it, even if they did it pretending to be some accursed demon-spawn descendent of the high elves of Happyland or whatnot. It’s also why listening to a gamer talk about what they did is so terrifically boring in the main; it’s them talking about themselves.
Spend enough time with your characters and you learn them beyond intimacy. Get a group of people working together on the same characters, the same story,and the mix becomes more arcane, more potent. This is the creative breath of life. This when characters can talk to you, when you know what they will do and why they do it in every situation. They are real, even if only within the confines of the mind, and thus they are alive. This is when they surprise you, when you think you’re writing one thing, have a plan or a plot, then see it suddenly tipped on its ear by words you’ve typed that you’re not at all certain where they came from.
I’m not a neurologist. My understanding of how the mind works is decidedly limited, despite my curiosity in the subject, especially in regards to creativity. Some artists put their creative ‘force’ outside of themselves, call it a muse or inspiration or genius, perhaps. Others root it firmly inside. The source doesn’t matter, perhaps, because in the end, it’s the work that’s the proof.
One long reveal. Rick’s right, it is.
Wish I’d known that was what I was writing when I wrote it.