Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Struggle to Create

I have been struggling to really get underway with my new novel. It’s not surprising, really. I have written five in the last two and a half years or so. Since I believe that writing is a creative process, I’m not at all surprised that my creative juices have ceased to flow for a while.

This creative process for me has three essential elements: plot, characters and ideas. I always have an ‘idea’ when I begin a new novel. It might be something like: ‘selfishness vs self-sacrifice’; ‘spirituality vs psychosis’; ‘how life injures us’… There is always an idea or theme behind my novels, although often the plot or characters can hide, obscure or transform it.

Characters often present themselves to me. Sometimes I am drawing upon my own personality, extending or exaggerating a particular trait. Sometimes a person I have known, whether briefly or otherwise, can provide the basis for a character. Usually a character is constructed from aspects of myself and several others.

And then there is plot. It’s clear that plot—a sustained and interesting story line—is the most difficult for me. I may have an idea and characters with which to explore it, but no story in which to do so. That’s where I am at the moment. Ideas and characters I have aplenty. But a story…? There I am struggling.

Why is that? They say ‘write what you know’—those mysterious voices which provide us with so much ‘wisdom’. I largely agree with this particular axiom, but mainly because I am lazy. Writing about something I don’t know requires a great deal of research. How would I write meaningfully, for example, about a doctor who botches a surgical procedure and then faces legal action? I can write about the impact this might have upon the doctor and his family. But can I write accurately and believably about medical procedures and legal proceedings? Not without a great deal of research which, I admit, I would probably find boring. So it’s much easier to write about being a theological student or a priest; a counsellor or a research scientist. The problem is, of course, that most of that is very, very dull. Not the kind of thing to keep the reader on the edge of her seat! So it is necessary to introduce something more exciting. And, since nothing particularly exciting has ever happened to me, that inevitably means writing something I don’t know. And research.

I suppose it is possible to gloss over the details. I’m sure many writers do that. And often the details are neither essential to the story nor interesting. Sometimes they are, though. And I remain committed to authenticity. This can bog the writer (and reader) down. It requires careful balancing.

So I am surrounded by characters and peppered with ideas, but the story eludes me. There is a certain faith required here: faith that ‘it’ will come to me. So my ears, eyes and mind remain open. 

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