Our Characters: The Path into the Void

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 | Finding Your Characters, First Drafts, The Queen's Pawn, The Writing Life

Where would we be without our characters? I for one would be nowhere. While I have a lively imagination, I tend to live a quiet life. I have fought in no wars.  I have run from no crazed killers (thank goodness). I have never worked in law enforcement. If I were to turn to my real life for stories to put in my novels, I would have very little to say. So I am lucky that my characters come to me.

I am one of those writers who does not pick up her pen, or turn on her computer, until a character has shown up. They come to me first, and ask, “Would you like to hear my story?” Princess Alais, a quiet girl, emerged from the Void one evening, and asked that simple question. It turned out that there was a great deal more to that character than the quiet voice I first heard or than the history books would suggest. Alais led me, slowly, one step at a time, down the path that was her life. Looking at the wilds of the Plantagenet court from a devout, convent raised girl’s point of view was fascinating, but it was even more fascinating when that quiet girl stepped out of the role that had been proscribed for her to take a chance on building a new life for herself. Whether she failed or not doesn’t matter. The fact that she tried made her 100 times more interesting to me. The Queen’s Pawn would never have been born without Alais’ constant presence and contribution, and for that, I will always be grateful to her.

I know that I sound mad. To any person who is not an artist, the sort of thing I am describing would call for medication and a long rest. :) But as Henry James once wrote, this devotion to people who exist only in the pages of our books is not insanity.  It is the “madness of art.” Other artists will understand what I mean, and our friends, families and readers will smile indulgently.  They have watched this madness take shape in us as we devote ourselves to our work over and over again. Our family and friends wait until we return from the Void with the story we went searching for. Our readers buy the next book, wondering where the Void has taken us this time, and where it might take them.

Without my characters, I would be alone in that Void, and I would bring nothing back. I feel as if I am in partnership with these phantoms of my imagination, with these specters of the past, these people from the land of dreams who have been kind enough to share their stories with me. It is a sacred trust, one that I do not take lightly, whether I am writing a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine or a Regency romance about people who never existed. The trust is the same. These characters trust me to honor them, and I trust them to show up when I step into the unknown.  I am grateful for every book I have been privileged to write. I am always aware that though it is I who step into the Void, I do not step in alone. I have partners in the dark, helping me to bring their stories to light.

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4 Comments to Our Characters: The Path into the Void

Mande Lawrence
September 27, 2011

I recently read “To Be Queen” and could not put it down. I was taken with the character Alienor or Eleanor. Her strength and intelligence was incredible especially due to the time. Her self reflection and ability to deny herself the very things she wanted was fascinating to watch unravel. This book was fantastic! If you dn’t fall in love with this character and scorn her at the same time, you are not reading this book!

Mande Lawrence

Christy
September 28, 2011

Mande, thank you so much for your sweet words about To Be Queen…I am glad Eleanor moved you. She has moved me and fascinated me for years. She inspires me to stay with her, following her into the Void.

Gaile Kenney
October 1, 2011

Had to see your website!

Christy
October 1, 2011

Gaile, I am so glad you did :)

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