Writing fiction is always about relationship, and the first relationship that must be established is between the author and the main character. There’s got to be a certain intimacy in order to proceed. I can’t just write. I don’t just make things up. I need to be guided and if I can’t get that guidance from the main character then I can’t write the story.
I don’t know what causes the initial spark, or why the story or character lands on my door step or my page. It’s mysterious to me, although I think it must have to do with my own interests. An author is interested in certain things, and those interests make the author open to learning more, and so a character shows up who can offer an author a deeper journey into those interests. A story sort of taps a writer, and at the point of being tapped a writer can only say one of two things. Either yes, or no.
Saying yes to a story is more interesting, but that’s not reason enough to say it. Sometimes no is an appropriate answer. Writing a novel is a very long haul – two or three years usually. It’s a marriage, not just a wedding. Maybe the subject tickles my interest but doesn’t seem like something I can sustain. Or maybe I feel ho-hum about the story. Or maybe I just don’t feel ready, in which case I can shelve the story and let it percolate in my subconscious. Or maybe I’m just afraid, in which case I may as well say yes, because in my experience a story won’t leave me alone if fear is the only thing keeping me from it.
Fear of writing a story is always fear of the future. Fear of publication, fear of rejection, fear of bad reviews, good reviews, no reviews, success, failure, fear of being criticized for writing the novel I wrote. Fear of the process.
For me, writing a story or reading a story is always about learning something new. It’s about pushing against what we know to learn what we don’t know. That’s what storytelling is about. That’s why storytellers in some cultures are highly regarded, perhaps even considered shamans. Storytelling is always about breaking down barriers, not about maintaining them.
A good storyteller can go beyond the limitations of self. That’s the point. That’s the magic. It always begins with that relationship between author and character. That’s who I write for, the character.
Naturally, I hope other people read my stories, and like them, but I don’t write for those people. I don’t write for them, or a marketplace, or what’s hot, or a professor, or an editor, or agent. I write for my characters.
Have I honored them? Did I tell their story? Were we in the journey together? Did I listen to their guidance?
If yes, then I’ve succeeded.