Thursday, November 13, 2008

A novel trinity

I've been something of a slacker lately--at least in terms of blogging.  Partly this is due to being swamped in work.  I'm trying to get a few chapters of the latest incarnation of my book sent off to my agent in NY, and even when I'm not overtly writing/editing, I'm thinking about it, composing in my head, imagining the twists and turns of these lives.  My editor told me the other day that I needed to draft a backstory for one of the storylines in the book.  "Let them speak to you," she told me. "Let them tell you their story."  And that's exactly what I've been doing. 

For some writers, working with an outline/a map of the story is the best way to approach a novel.  They know the ending before they start the beginning.  These are left-brain writers, people who want to stay in charge of their work.  This is not me. I would feel stymied if I had to write in such a tight manner--like a straight line from beginning to end, staying on track (I know I'm overgeneralizing, but you get the idea). Like CS Lewis says, for me, it begins with 'a lump in my throat.'  I get to know my characters, and let them tell me their story.  Sometimes they don't do what I'd like them to do--once they've begun to have flesh and muscle added to their skeleton, they are who they are, so they get a little messier than I'd like, and I have far less control than I wish.There are unexpected delays, roadblocks, tightrope walks...and sometimes I even write myself into a deadend. See, I didn't know the ending of this novel when I started it.  In fact, all I knew was one scene--I wrote this family's story because I wanted to see what happened to them after that cataclysmic shift in their lives.  I know them so well now, it feels like I could drive up to their big old farmhouse, knock on the door and they'd welcome me in.  I'm not really crazy, I realize they don't really exist--except inside my head and in the words on a page--words I've written down for them.  But those words aren't always ones I hoped they would say. 

I've often thought that as their creator--the one who loves them most--they should at least do me the honor of being who I want them to be--noble, grand, enlightened.  But they aren't.  They stubbornly refuse to fit into the little character sketches I wrote for them in the early days.  This one's too angry, that one has a tendency to flee.  I wrote a mother I always dreamed of, and she turned out to have clay feet as well.  Dang it!

But all this imagining I do, and this being subject to the characters I created has always made me think of the Holy Trinity.  See, I'm the creator, these characters in my story wouldn't exist if I hadn't given them life.  No one else thought them up, no one else gave them life.  And it wasn't an accident--no big bang started this novel.  It was my own imagination, brain and fingers.  And therefore, every character has something of me in them--the Spirit of me, so to speak.  Though it feels like I can't control them, they are also subject to that spirit of me that first invented them and loves them most (even the 'villians' of the piece!).  But in any piece of fiction, there could also be a 'me': the very incarnation of the real self of the author, who speaks and acts exactly as the writer would in those fictional situations within the story.  This is possible, though there is no such 'me' in my novel.  But even now, I could write myself in--if I felt I needed to save the story, if my being present in the novel would make a difference between life and no life for those characters.

See, the Creator, the Incarnate, the Spirit--all the same exact person in mine or any other novel. A novel trinity. And that's the way it is with the actual Holy Trinity.  He is complete: Spirit, Incarnate, Creator--All God almighty.  How novel is that?

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