If you’re new to The Writing Process 2015, these posts are a chance to share my journey through my latest novel, starting right at ground zero.
So now you know the title of the novel I’m working on. When We Were Sisters. And yes, I’m happy with it. But the title subtly changed my ideas for the novel, as titles always do. When I originally conceived the story as Life After Love, the basics were the same, but the relationship between one of the two female characters, Robin, and her husband Kris, seemed most important. Now the title makes it clear that the story between the two women is every bit, if not more, important.
This is a perfect example of why I always need my title up front. For me–and not necessarily for every other author–title becomes a catalyst.
So the proposal’s been accepted. I now have a title. I’ve done some significant research, and I do more every day. (Ask me about the history of the two St. Wenceslas churches in Cleveland, OH, an extremely minor point that nevertheless fascinated me this week.)
Before I can move on, though, I need so much more. I know the arc of the story, and the most dramatic moments. I have settled on settings. I know a little about my character’s professions.
What I don’t know is enough about who they are inside and out.
This week and last I began to delve into the secret lives of characters. When I first started my writing career I created a social history, much as I might have when I worked in a mental health center, my first career. Later I began to write the history as a biography. Later still I realized what I really needed was to hear my character’s voice, how he or she expressed feelings, unusual ways she or he might speak. So I began to write autobiographies instead. These days my characters speak for themselves. They tell me all the little things I didn’t know, in their own words, and as they speak I learn what really matters to them and why.
I began with Robin, because in my heart she’s the most pivotal character. I knew how she would react in certain situations, but I didn’t know why. So I started right at the beginning.
“Cecilia was the first to call me Robin. The day we met I was ten and wearing a red hand-me-down sweater. She insisted that with my pale brown hair and red breast I looked just like one.“
Forty-five pages later, I brought Robin’s life up to the beginning of the novel.
“Cecilia was calling, and when I exploded she listened and reminded me I had options. Of course she was right, always the big sister helping me solve the problems of my life.”
Forty-five pages you will never see–at least not most of it. But you will find everything I learned threaded throughout the novel.
As I worked on this I told myself I was obsessing, that I would never need this detail or that, but, of course, I will. Because this is the panorama of Robin’s life. The reasons she acts the way she does, her fears and joys, the moments that made her the woman she is. Along the way I decided where she grew up, who took care of her, how she did in school. Does it matter? Absolutely. Because much of this novel is about the past, and why not figure out those details and moments now so that when I begin to write I won’t have to stop and figure them out? I know the names of her family members, the parts of school she loved and those she didn’t, the way she coped with the difficult moments in her past. Best of all I know how she met both Cecilia and Kris, and why she loves them both.
I’m working on Kris’s autobiography now. It will be somewhat shorter since lots of his story and Robin’s is the same, although his feelings about it won’t be. Then I’ll start on Cecilia’s autobiography. I have no idea how long that one will take. Cecilia? Well, she’s a woman with a lot to say.
Am I wasting my time? I don’t think so, but in June of 2016, you will be able to judge.