Sunday, 27 July 2014

Does The Writer Own His Characters, Or Do The Characters Own The Writer?

I’m 90,000 words into the second novel. I’m starting chapter 31 of 39. With the target of 110,000-120,000 words in total, I guess I’m mathematically three quarters of the way there. Statistically I have made it past the 80,000 word threshold, which means that what I have written is a novel and no longer a novella. All of this, however, is subject to change. As I write along, I realize that in spite of its solidity my plot backbone has to sometimes be tweaked and expanded. Basically what I had in mind when I first put pen to paper in December 2013 seemed to make a lot of sense back then, but now not as much. Some ideas I had then have since been ruled out and others weaved in as they seem more natural and appropriate. As a result I have merged chapters or separated them by adding extra elements and necessary interludes to the plot. I have also made notes to rectify some scenes and wipe out others at a later stage.

Another fascinating aspect about novel writing is the way your characters build up over time and how they gain in credibility and depth as you write. I knew that my main protagonist – Gerry – would carry the story. However, little did I know that several of the secondary characters would become so important. Although the author is supposed to know his characters inside out, there is a lot of room for improvisation, and you get to discover them as you continue to write about them. Pushing my thoughts a little further, I guess a writer’s relationship with his characters is in some ways comparable to new real-life relationships. When you meet someone for the first time you have an opinion on that person; the more time you spend with the person, the better you get to know the person; you get to see pros and cons; and you are able to flesh out that initial opinion with the knowledge you have gained. Unlike real-life though the writer is omnipotent, almost God-like. As he embarks on writing a new novel, he decides on the fate of his characters and alters them to his heart’s content. The characters are merely illustrations of the writer’s inner-self and his mixed bag of feelings. However, the more the writer ventures into the novel, and the more his characters live on to see another day, the more meaningful they become. The characters have gained in substance and are a lot more present in the writer’s mind. He has given them a persona and names that mean something. They have been present in written scenes and have made their presence felt. Now if the writer wishes to alter them or do something more radical like remove them from the plot altogether, it requires a lot more consideration. Not only has the writer spent time with them and got to know them better, but they have subtly carved themselves comfortable places in the plot. The writer must think twice before tampering with their fate.
I sometimes wonder if the relevant characters are in fact more powerful than the writer who imagined them in the first place. The writer is now forced to respect them, and he roots for them so much as he believes in the book he has written and in the strength and depth of his characters. The roles are certainly reversed after publication. The writer spends his time promoting his characters and he must speak on their behalf with blind faith. As far as I am concerned, when I first started ‘Out of Bounds’ I wasn’t too sure how the characters Ray Dupree and Jacob Bornholm would develop. In spite of them being polar opposites, they are pretty much the shoulder angel and devil of Kyle’s conscience. You need them both to secure a certain sense of harmony and balance in the world. Bornholm isn’t your straight-forward good guy, and neither is Ray your straight-forward bad guy. As I continued to write about them, they both grew in complexity, transcending the stereotypical boundaries we tend to establish when we think of a cop and a villain. Similar to Kyle and Pilar, Bornholm and Ray took on a whole new dimension. Can Ray be seen as the serpent who tricks Kyle, like Eve, into eating fruit from the Garden of Eden’s forbidden tree? Likewise, why is that Bornholm is at Kyle’s side in the final chapter of the book? (Those of you who have read the end will know what I’m hinting at here). Bornholm and Ray: two pivotal characters who began as vague ideas and then grew to become more than your average cameo role.

I have entered a second wave of promoting ‘Out of Bounds’. I am increasingly trying my luck with crime fiction review blogs and have joined the masses of people who are seeking to grab a little bit of newspaper attention. The book is in the hands of several reviewers as I write these words, and I am hoping to see my online presence increase soon. I am looking forward to reading the first reviews and to the possible domino effect they can potentially have in terms of the awareness factor for ‘Out of Bounds’.
I am also trying to promote the book locally. However, being an author having written in the English language only is undoubtedly quite a hurdle when you live in southwest France. Having said that, I am trying to work my way into a local crime fiction festival, which is taking place in Toulouse in October. It’s called ‘Toulouse Polar du Sud’ aka the 6ème Festival International des Littératures Policières. The conference organizers have been kind enough to get back to me and suggest we meet up in October.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get to meet other writers, talk about ‘Out of Bounds’, and make an impression? I go there as an underdog, but similar to the relationships they have with their characters, will they rule me out there and then or will they think about their encounter with me once the conference is over? Like an imagined character, can I achieve more than a cameo role and become meaningful in the eyes of the literary elite?
I will strive to meet that target.