I write because I like to be flabbergasted.
January 28, 2016
HE CAME ALONG, and no one saw him coming.
She fell in love.
I didn’t even know she was there.
The man was gunned down.
I didn’t know he had any enemies.
The woman is my heroine.
I had never met her before.
And that begs one question for which there is no answer.
Where do characters come from in a novel?
I have no idea.
They’re back in the central casting region of our brains waiting for somebody to finally get around to throwing them out on a piece of paper.
Some in my mind have been waiting a long time.
I know that a lot of novelists carefully develop each character before the writing begins, and they diligently plant each character into the outline before they ever think of writing their first words. They have massaged each character until he or she seems like family.
They know the age, the height and weight of each of them.
They know the clothes they wear and how they part their hair.
They know where they grew up, where they went to school, all of the jobs that each of them have had, and the secrets they possess.
They know who wins and who loses, who lives and who dies, who gets the girl and who gets death row.
I salute them. I applaud them.
I can’t write that way.
When I begin a novel, I have one character in mind.
I have one plot point in mind.
I jump in and see where they take me.
I don’t know who the characters are until they walk on stage.
I don’t know their secrets until they tell me.
When I sat down to write Secrets of the Dead, all I had was a title and a single idea.
My primary character was either going to assassinate the vice president or prevent the vice president from being assassinated.
He didn’t know which.
Neither did I.
When I finished the novel, the vice president was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t even make a cameo appearance.
The story was supposed to take place in Washington, D. C.
I was sure of it.
My main character is in Baden-Baden, Germany, and I don’t think he’s coming back. I don’t think he wants to come back.
I knew that the bad guys had sent an assassin to knock him out.
I did not know the assassin was a beautiful woman until she stepped out of the shadows. I was flabbergasted, which is why I write this way. I love to be flabbergasted.
My wife spends Sunday afternoon reading.
I spend mine writing.
Why are you reading, I ask her.
To find out what happens next, she says.
Why are you writing, she asks.
Same reason, I say.
If I already knew what happened next, I wouldn’t bother with the story.