I’m writing in the middle of a thunderstorm. There’s a coconut palm between me and the thrashing grey ocean, and huge heavy branches are tearing off and crashing to the ground. Coconut are thudding to earth. And I’m in my study, tapping on my keyboard, lost in another world. The wilder the wind gets, the more my characters connect with what’s happening to them, as if my anxiety level about damage is leaking into their reality, affecting their nerves. And things are happening in the story that might not be happening if I was writing on a tranquil day with a sparkly blue ocean and a Simpson’s blue sky.
What am I to make of that?
I’m a seat of the pants writer so I don’t have a plot to follow. I have a thread of connection between myself and the characters who’ve chosen me to tell their story. Some days the connection is so tight I feel as if I am them. Some days it’s a slippery invisible strand I can only brush against in frustrating glimpses. But my world is connected to their world. My emotions are connected to their emotions. When I listen to Rachmaninoff I “see” their world more clearly. I have no idea why. I just do. So I feel my way through their world, using my intuition and my attention and my emotions to coax their story into my mind and through that into my fingers and onto the screen.
It’s more an act of faith than a carefully crafted technique. It teaches me to listen and to feel. And sometimes to remember. I haven’t always connected to characters through my own stories. I began connecting with other people’s characters. Frank Herbert’s “Dune” was a landmark book for me. It had everything I’d ever wanted to read in a novel: action, adventure, characters thrust into a strange new world (a continuing theme in my own writing), a love story, and a young central character whose morality was above question, yet whose circumstances tested that morality at every turn. Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” was the book that gave the sub-genre a name. It also taught me that I was selecting books because I wanted to read about a character who saw the world with fresh eyes. I still do. And the Twilight series affected me profoundly in ways I’m not yet able to articulate. Bella was a stranger in a very strange land, seeing her own world anew through Edward’s eyes. That much is clear, but why I felt so ‘connected’ to her world and her troubled love story is still a mystery to me, as I imagine it is to a lot of readers. But I enjoyed the books immensely. In all the novels that have affected me profoundly I’ve connected with the main character and felt their journey.
It’s what I want to do for readers of my own novels, and that can only be achieved if I can connect with them first. So while they have their storm of emotions to deal with, I have a real-life storm happening, and I’m more grateful than I can say for the synchronicity that brought me turbulence at the time when my characters needed it.
Again with the FAITH, but when you have it rewarded again and again it teaches you to trust in it.