I Write Because I Like to Be Flabbergasted
November 14, 2012
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, who they married, why they married, 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.
But Stephen Woodfin and I have talked about it a lot, and we 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.
In my period novel that I am serializing on Caleb and Linda Pirtle, Secrets of the Dead, I had a character who was either going to assassinate the vice president or prevent the vice president from being assassinated.
He didn’t know which.
Neither did I.
I’m about two-thirds to the finish line, and, let me assure you, the vice president is nowhere to be seen and won’t be seen. He doesn’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.
To find out what happens next, I say.
If I already knew what happened next, I wouldn’t bother with the story.