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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Intended for Harm

Intended for Harm. That's the title and theme of my new novel. I'm now about fifty thousand words into it, but have only just begun this family saga. As always, I learn a lot as a book progresses. It's as if while I write, its secrets begin to spill out. Not just characters' secrets, but the subtext that probably comes from my subconscious. We are told to write what we are passionate about, and to create characters that have something to say or that portray something important.

I was given a huge burst of inspired creativity one afternoon as I sat on my deck overlooking the redwoods and the creek. I knew one of my characters--Leah--seemed a lot like water, and I started seeing images and qualities of water and how that metaphor fit her personality and behavior. It struck me at that moments that Jacob, too, had an "earth" quality--wood. Years ago I studied a bit about five elements acupuncture, and thought how treatment of illness was related to how balanced or imbalanced someone's elements were in relation to their health. There is a fascinating correlation to the natural elements, seasons, and cycles, and health. You can have too much metal or not enough fire. Suddenly, all nine of my characters could be associated with an element, and that element grew into a metaphor and symbolism for that character. Since I'm first a poet and love language and metaphor, this eye-opening idea flowed into pages of notes and now that I'm deep into the story, I've been discovering how these characters are entwined with their element.

People often ask writers how much of themselves they put into their characters and story. Apart from my mostly autobiographical novel Conundrum, I usually don't consciously put myself or those I know in my books. But of course, I draw from the hurt, frustration, and disappointment I've experienced in life. I've had dreams dashed, been betrayed by family, lost hope. I found it odd that Romantic Times, in giving Someone to Blame a glowing review, said the book was well-researched, which I suppose referred to to the topic of suicide and grief. I had another reviewer say I must have experienced this type of loss to have written it so well. But I haven't. I've known friends and family who have attempted and committed suicide, but I didn't research it, nor did I really think about those people. I think that an author who has experienced many different pains in life can pull from those experiences and morph them into different stories.

My high school English teacher told me all those decades ago that if you are a good actor and can immerse yourself in the role of your characters, you can be a terrific novelist. I think that's true. When I write in a character's point of view, I just let go of myself and become the character--feel and think the way they do. Although some friends have trouble doing this due to feeling tainted or spiritually attacked (regarding dark characters), I don't. I find it fascinating to delve into the psyche or mindset of a character, understand their motivations, fears, desperate needs. I always know I am not them, and the reason I am doing this is to create a moving, believable story.

So, those are my thoughts this day as I work on my novel. I'd love to hear what goes through your mind as you write and create memorable characters.

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