Behind the scenes: A novel is an adventure for the writer, too!
A guest blog by Gary Alan Ruse
When we read a novel, if it’s well crafted, the action and dialogue tend to flow smoothly from start to finish, playing out like a non-stop movie in our minds. But unlike the ancient Greek goddess Athena, who according to mythology sprang full grown and fully armed from the forehead of Zeus, a novel does not take shape anywhere near that fast or that easily. And that’s a good thing.
That novel that you read in a few hours or days likely took months or even years to write, with some interruptions along the way.
There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that the reader is never aware of–lots of time spent doing research, often tedious hunting for background information and facts which are used not only for adding colorful touches to narrative descriptions but also often used in the nuts and bolts construction of the basic plot. You can’t have characters dashing off to foreign locales and doing interesting, unusual things without learning something about them (unless you’ve had a lot of experience you can tap into!).
If you have a complex story that involves alternating scenes in different cities and time zones around the world (as my techno-thriller, “Houndstooth,” did) then you have to give some thought to whether it’s day or night in those places, what the weather is like, what’s open or closed at certain hours, what transportation is available, what the buildings look like, what kinds of trees grow there, currency, language, nearby military bases and a host of other details. You have to do that, just to be able to build the basic framework to make the plot work and avoid blunders. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun, and the research stage will often inspire or suggest things you might not have thought of otherwise. That’s definitely part of the adventure.
Character building is another part. Often the people we write about in fiction are drawn, in whole or in part, from our own lives–a nosy neighbor, an annoying co-worker, a self-assured boss, a dear friend–but perhaps more often the characters who star in our movies for the mind are shaped by the story we are trying to tell. Someone behaving heroically, trying to solve a mystery, righting a wrong or just coping with a vexing problem that makes them examine who they are. They’re the people who need to be there to make the story work, pure and simple.
What most readers don’t know is that characters are not always easy to build, not always easy to give a unique “voice” to make them sound real and believable. And the other odd thing about fictional characters is that, quite frankly, they don’t always behave the way even the writers expect them to.
Years ago I sometimes would hear another writer say that one of their characters just seemed to jump off the page and write their own dialogue and plot their own actions. My reaction back then, to myself at least, was to think, “Uh-huh….sure.” And glance around to see if men in white coats were nearby. That opinion ceased when I was working on my fantasy novel, “Morlac: The Quest of the Green Magician.” One of the secondary characters, Broct, who was initially involved in Morlac’s training and quickly became his side-kick, almost immediately took charge of any scene he was in and literally the words would come out of his mouth without any effort on my part, and he would do things, bold and brash and often funny things, that surprised the heck out of me. I had to work to make sure he didn’t push my story’s hero into the background. Now, psychologists would likely say that the character merely tapped into some subconscious part of my mind and personality and made it easier to write his dialogue. Maybe. I’ve heard some supernatural theories, too, which are fun if you’re a literary romanticist, but which are not terribly scientific.
In another novel, a gothic paranormal mystery, a secondary character again seemed to be more lively and engaging than the central character, and even blurted out at one point a vital clue that made the mystery work a lot better. That’s okay. I love it when the characters help out, and I have learned to trust my instincts and sometimes just stand back and let them go!
So the next time you read a novel that you particularly enjoy, that’s a lot of fun along the way, there’s a better than even chance that you aren’t the only one. The writer almost certainly enjoyed the adventure as well.
- Visit author Gary Alan Ruse at his official website here
Thank you to author Gary for a great guest blog! This one is a definitely read; fans get a glimpse of what goes around the authors mind while their writing and doing all the research that might not easily fit into one book. As readers and fans of certain novels, we should also stop and think of the author who’s behind the characters and writing. It’s already amazing that they’re sharing these stories with us, thank you authors 🙂