Making the Characters Real

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I have the privilege, in this life, of being enriched by extraordinary friends—their stories, their insights, their questions. I don't get locked too deeply inside of me because of them. I get snapped out, to the broader perspective.

Yesterday—a long climb, a battle, even—I reached the 100-page mark in this novel I've been writing. I was attempting, over email, to explain its essence to Jane Satterfield, another Bread Loaf connection, a poet, a memoirist, an extraordinary professor at Loyola (I know, I've been there, I've met her students). Despite the garble of my email she seemed at once to understand where I am going, what I am wanting, how I am challenged, why I keep on waking up at 4 each morning, just for a shot at a small encounter with the novel. She had it down, she had me down, and then she asked this question: So you have imagined the characters into a very real past? Or has the research convinced you they are real? That is, that these imagined beings are ghosted by very real events?

It occurred to me that I'd never asked myself this question—and that the answer lies somewhere between the two poles of Jane's counterpoised assertion: The characters are real to me because at some basic level I share their impulses—because I have been ruined, too, by inadequacy, jealousy, inequity; because I have been spared by hope, by love. The research (into the streets they walk, the contraptions they encounter, the domestic politics of a long lost era, the weather) is what sets the characters free from me, gives them complex lives of their own.

Well, it took me all morning to figure that out. Now to open the tightly fisted bud of page one hundred and one.


grete said...

Is it possible to think of writing like this - that in the act of creation God imprinted in us the same urge, the same will and passion to create as He has, and that bringing anything to life, whether real babies or babies of the mind, is a kind of mirror image of, and an answer to, God breathing life into man? And if words can plant the image of love into the world, are not the fictional characters real in the sense that their spirits have the possibilities of being alive as a creative, loving forces?


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