To do – or not to do?

5 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, I was brought up short by a sentence in a book review. It was “The details sometimes seem present because the author found them, not because they’re particularly instructive or metaphorical.”

Oh, wow. How true is that! I’m sure we’ve all encountered that occurrence at some point in our reading history. But let me tell you, it’s not always easy to ignore that marvelous new fact even if it brings the narrative to a screeching halt. That is, when the reader stops reading, and begins to scratch the head, trying to figure out ‘what did that mean?’ It’s truly not a very good thing to have happen.

I freely admit to having committed this sin, completely detouring my story from north to south, or some other unexpected direction, but – I just couldn’t help it! The thought of being the first author to make that fact known to the world is just tooo overpowering, even if it really makes little – or no – sense in that particular place. I think it happens most often when the author has created really spectacular characters. They can be totally imaginative, or actual personages who lived long years ago – far enough in the past that the fear of a lawsuit is negligible.

Actually, this sort of adventure is really more the fault of the character than the author. These characters are just determined to exert their own influence, regardless of who they trample on in the process. The author never has to worry about what they’ll say or do – they’ll do it all by themselves, believe me!

I’ve had several characters absolutely refuse to do as I wanted them to do. One in particular, the maid Clarissa, in Ardenwycke Unveiled actually scolded me for making her speak in dialogue when she’d been educated with the daughter of the house, and thus was as well-spoken as her mistress! It was true. No matter how many times I’d start her out speaking in dialect (as did her beau, Jamesy, who was an uneducated outdoor slave) before the end of the sentence she was once again using English as well as I do.  This was happening in the late 1700s in upstate New York, when the well-to-do Dutch families kept black-skinned slaves.

I’d found that fact in the travel section of my local newspaper some years earlier, and was as surprised as anyone when it popped out of the labyrinth of my brain to present itself in this book.  So, after that night when Clarissa yelled at me, I was a much-chastened author, always careful not to make her look foolish. She’d learned to read and write, and took enormous pride in those skills, unusual for one of her race in that time.

On the other hand, Windsong, the mother of the hero in Secret Shores, did her best to hijack that book, until I threw up my hands in disgust one night and informed her: “Now listen here, lady. This book is about your son. It is NOT your book. If you behave and let this be Jock’s story, I’ll do your story next.”

So then, when my editor started talking about a second book, I suggested Windsong’s story. By this time I knew her really well, and she was a great narrator. I just listened to what she told me and typed as fast as I could, trying to keep up! She knew her story much better than I ever could. Of course, having done so much research on that period and time, it came very easily.

My advice is: pay attention to the little details. Who knows when you might need one of them at some future time?

As always, if you have questions or comments, please write to me:      Thanks!

And thanks for reading!


2 Responses to “To do – or not to do?”

  1. Ty Drago March 5, 2014 at 2:11 am #

    Nice piece! Thank you!

  2. Sandra Heath March 5, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    As a writer, I can thoroughly agree with what you’ve written, Book Mechanic. I have also had a prima donna heroine (an actual historical person) who absolutely would NOT comply with what I wanted, so I was obliged to ditch her and bring in a rival (another actual person)who was MUCH better. So the story was told from the mistress’s point of view, not the wife’s! The prima donna did not come out of it well in the end. She had her chance and blew it!

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