Pot Roast, anyone? Characters in my novel-in-progress have been hovering around the kitchen, the living room and the back yard for weeks now, waiting to eat Pot Roast. They've been lingering and thinking, but now it was time to eat. But I couldn’t seem to get them to the table. Well, finally, they can have their supper.
How did such a thing happen? Well, that’s what I’m writing about: the glimpses of the numinous we get to be part of in the creative arts. Mine is quite a humble glimpse, but, I am thrilled by it. Why? Well, let me tell you.
I started this novel quite a while ago. Started with a writing prompt in a seminar. I don’t remember the prompt, but the picture it nudged into life has stayed with me for the last few years. I ‘saw’ a woman holding onto a Miraculous Medal. She is in pain. She is angry, confused and her world vision has been turned inside out.
But that’s all I had. I hadn’t yet learned what it was that upset her, what sent her into a deep well of darkness. I had to discover that. So over time, much time, since I am quite slow at this, my character Rose had to turn into a real person, albeit one that lives in my imagination and in the pages I have churned out. But the truth is, she lives in this other place, this place I couldn’t just access by willing it. I had to ‘drop down’ into that place where writing happens. Then, I had to be let in.
Someone I know often said that a person with a pencil in his hand can make characters do and say anything the writer wants. That may be true, to an extent. But, it is only part of the story.
Talk to writers for a while and they may let you in on a secret: the best, most compelling writing comes not from the conscious, willful mind. The writing that delights the writer (and hopefully the reader) comes from something bigger than our own little controlling sensible logical day-time brain. It is writing that surprises the writer. It is the turn in the story or development of character and plot that has its own trajectory, its own secrets to reveal. It is the thin slice of gold that is the real reason writers face a blank page day after day, hoping, working, putting letters on a screen, in anticipation that we can get to the yellow brick road, even if only for a few steps.
When one of my characters needed a cigarette, he went to the back porch to light up. It is raining. Without warning, he steps into the rain. This impulsive act sets in motion a way to break the tension and allow dinner to proceed. I didn’t know he was going to do that. Actually, until the words showed up on the page by way of my fingertips I was struggling with what turn of events would progress the story. I was thinking too much. I was in my own way.
Remember the Nav’i in Avatar? Those long pony tails were not just for show, they were the cord by which the large blue people connected with the horse like flying creatures, each other, and the tree of life that was at the center of their culture. Connected, they were more than they were alone; they were one with the greater energy that is always present, but often ignored.
I had been trying to steer my novel in a certain way, like the man turned Nav’i in Avatar was trying to steer his ride. Once he was connected, braid to braid, he was part of the process, not part of the resistance. He could move forward.
Now that my characters have had their dinner, I wonder what will happen to them next. Guess I’ll find out.