getting to know

Morning Work

48,022, Sweet Taboo. Has occurred to me…I’ll need a new title for this novel; “Sweet Taboo” no longer fits. Working on the character of Randall’s mother this week. Yesterday she stepped into the story. I know her name, Jessica Lockhart, and one other concrete thing about her. In The Art and Craft of Novel Writing, in the chapter about characterization, Oakley Hall quotes Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, on the birth of characters:

… they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about.

In considering Jessica Lockhart, the one other essential thing about her is her subconscious bigotry. She’s not an unlikeable woman; she’s merely unaware of this particular flaw in her personality. Character is best revealed, I think, through literary sleight of hand, i.e., you want the reader to understand the character on her own. I like that technique, but I know that telling the reader about the character works well too, and the way to make the character come alive in economical exposition is the well-placed detail.

Hall quotes Elizabeth Bowen; she said, “The novelist’s perceptions of his characters take place in the course of the actual writing of the novel.” That’s certainly how it happens for me. I can write character bios, come up with all sorts of details, but I know nothing about a character until I write that character into the story–that’s where the real revelations come to light.