The Capital Crime Writers had a function last night and Toronto guest author Howard Shrier spoke about how he writes. Apparently, he takes a notebook (or two or three) and writes down his thoughts over a long period of time. He doesn’t put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) until he’s done. As he put it, by then, his characters are “busting out and can’t wait to talk.”
I heard another author on CBC Radio this week who has a slightly different approach to writing. I caught the interview mid-point unfortunately, and the author’s name, which had no doubt been mentioned at the outset, wasn’t repeated and so I don’t know who it was.
But he described realizing at a certain point in time as he was writing his book that the two main characters were siblings. He said, “well, I wish I’d known that before; it would have saved me a lot of time.”
I totally sympathized with him. Sometimes you’re halfway through a manuscript and realize you got it wrong, that there was something about the characters that you didn’t know. Not didn’t invent. Didn’t know.
I think that’s the difference between books that are just okay, or good, and those that are great. In the great ones, it’s as if the characters exist in a parallel universe and the author reached out and bridged some kind of cosmic gap. You close the book, and in part of your mind, even though you know it’s fiction, you want to believe that those characters are still out there somewhere, living their remarkable lives while you go on about yours.
When this happens, it is magic.
And it is not restricted to books alone. The new TV series, Once Upon A Time, has that effect on me– I can’t wait to see each new episode. A big part of me wants to believe that there is a Storybrook, and that little Henry is out there right now, trying to persuade Emma that only she can remove the curse.
The greatest thing when you’re writing, I think, is when the penny drops and and you say to yourself, of course –they’re siblings. Those are not imagined so much as revelations, moments when we seem to reach across time and space and find the story that’s meant to be. Can it be anything other than magic?
Check out the book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera! Penguin did an amazing job!