September 14th, 2015
No diary entry last week, because I’m just back from a week’s holiday. That’s a week or so away from my half-formed characters who, to some extent, I must now become reacquainted with. Will I remember them? It’s a useful test, in my opinion, because if I don’t quickly get beneath their flesh again it probably means that before the break I hadn’t made them fully real. They were still cardboard. They weren’t living yet, which is why I may find it difficult to remember them. Now, this hasn’t happened to me, and I hope it doesn’t. I don’t know whether it will happen because I’m writing this diary piece before opening the slightly dog-eared manuscript on my desk and finding whether or not I am back among folks I know.
People (non-writers) are often puzzled at how a writer does remember – not the characters so much as the plot. “All that detail. How do you keep it all in your head?” they ask. “Do you have to keep going back to a big reference file, or what?” The writer is just as surprised at the question, being so immersed in what they’re creating that they have no problem at all in remembering the fictional story; what defeats them is switching their mind back to real life. “You did remember to put the oven on, didn’t you?” asks their spouse. It’s just as bad when the non-writer (who again is probably the writer’s long-suffering spouse) tries to engage in conversation. Grunts and nods from the writer, whose mind is somewhere else – in the detail of that fictional story which is more real to the writer than real life. For a week I have been away from that story, and was able to properly engage in conversation with my wife. Now, I fear, she may have to put up with and grunts and nods.
September 21st, 2015
The week’s holiday had a greater impact than I thought. One of my characters – who, having not yet appeared on the page, was still shadowy – has sprung into life. And like Frankenstein’s creation he has turned out not as his maker intended. This is all for the good. I had based him too closely on one of my brothers, not in character so much as in his status within the family, and by doing so I put him in a straightjacket. Now he has declared Independence and can live.
I have changed his age and thus his status within the family, and have given his life a different trajectory – changing his status again. His new history allows him to become more of a Man of Mystery. Previously I thought I knew him – but too well: he could not surprise me. Now he will. (He’ll surprise his family too.)
How has this happened? Mainly it was by taking a week’s break from the book, because there is nothing like stepping back from the canvas to change one’s point of view. What’s the cure to Writer’s Block? Go for a walk. And the cure for awkwardness in the plot? Go for a break. For me, that week’s holiday has done the trick.
September 28th, 2015
The change to one character has had a huge effect on another. Moving the birth of one sibling a decade later has changed the dynamics within the family and, most of all, has required a different back-story not only for him but for his mother. Until this point I had based her early married life on that of my own mother, and when I came back from holiday to make changes I tried to jiggle new fictional events (a later child, born in different circumstances) into my first intended pattern. The new pieces didn’t fit. I now have new and different people, fictional but real, who have created new and different selves as the best fictional characters do. Both have escaped the straightjacket of being approximate recreations of members of my real-life family, without a life-blood of their own. Now they can live and breathe.
In looking back over what I have written so far (some fifty pages of the first draft, concerned largely with other characters) I am surprised how few changes I shall have to make: some references to past events, a date or two, but practically nothing about those characters themselves. They will speak as they originally spoke, behave in the same way, have the same opinions – all signs that, being on stage and performing, they had already come to life. It is the characters off-stage who have changed. When they appear they will not only speak different lines but will reveal quite different histories, ones that bear little resemblance to those I had originally imposed.
I am glad this minor earthquake has happened so early in the writing; there are few things more frustrating than finding only when the book is almost finished that huge chunks must be thrown away and the whole thing must be remoulded. I can now build towards two different and more interesting revelations – and I look forward to that with excitement. I am excited to be excited. If an author is not excited by his story, why should any reader be?