The blank page. Every writer seems to tackle it in a slightly different way, starting with a different story element. I love hearing about each approach. Many start with the hook or plot, an idea coming in a sudden “what if” moment. What if Donald Trump was a writing teacher, pounding down the halls at Grub Street?
For me it's not a situation. It's a character who appears out of nowhere, like a new neighbor across the fence. My last main character popped into my head, all swagger and underneath, frustration. What the heck was his problem, I wondered. He seemed to have it all. “No, no,” he’d insist. “There’s more to me.” We took a meandering path to find his story, worth it in the end because of his quirky style.
As I started to revise Mr. Swagger's tale, another character arrived, presumptuous. Brute force was required to push her back out the door. I wasn’t ready; I was busy. Part of me wanted to see if she was strong enough to come back. Oh, she was.
"Hey, you!" she said. She returned with a clear "what if," dangled it in front of me. I didn’t know if I wanted to take her on, in fact, because readers will assume Hannah-the-Writer is making a statement that Hannah-the-Person wouldn’t. “Yeah? Well, what of it?” said this character. “Hey, life hands you what it hands you, doesn’t it? Are you going get dirty, or not?”
So I’m getting dirty, trying to find the details, to recognize pieces of my character. I don’t make it up, take something and hang it on her like a new sweater. I see something and know it belongs. A VW Bug pulled up next to me a few weeks ago, driven by an angular older woman with a sharp haircut. Whomever she is in real life, I recognized her as my character’s mother. A whole backstory tumbled into place. It's coming together, and it's about time. "Hey, you," says my character, "c'mon and get to it."
Wednesday, March 28, 2007