Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Enter the Character

by Anna Jones Buttimore

In 1990, Joanne Rowling was travelling on a train when Harry Potter "Just strolled into my head, fully formed." Nine years later began the phenomenon every writer dreams of - book sales breaking records, children discovering the joy of reading, and no financial worries ever again.

I don't begrudge her any of it - I love those books too. But until recently I was twisted with jealousy over the way her character, and presumably his story, came to her so easily. If you read these blogs regularly you'll know that I am struggling with my current work and even gave up on it a few months ago, before taking it out and dusting it off again with a sigh (and a sneeze). I think I'm finding it particularly difficult because my last book, Easterfield, was a joy to write - it pretty much just fell out of the ends of my fingers.

Two days ago I experienced an exciting flash of inspiration when the character of Amelia Druce swam into my head, fully formed. Yes, she really did swim, and not only was I able to see that she could do with losing a few pounds around the waistline and freshening up her hair colour, but I knew all about her failed marriages, her cossetted childhood, and her love of snow globes. I knew how she thought, which of her friends she liked the most, and exactly what funny things were going to happen to her in the course of the book.

Half-an-hour later I had not only written a whole introductory chapter about Amelia, but I knew how her story would intersect with those of her friends, and how her friends' characters complemented and contradicted hers. (Her friends didn't swim into my head - Maralee marched, Dolphin danced and Jen jumped. Tip for writers: always avoid affected, awkward and annoying alliteration - but when you get to know these characters as I have, you'll see what I mean.)

Unfortunately when I say "written", I mean "composed" because, as always happens with flashes of inspiration, I was nowhere near a computer at the time. I was, in fact, in the steam room at my gym, my second-favourite place in the world for quiet time, introspection and deep thought. (A banana for whoever can guess the first.) Not really somewhere I can take a laptop.

Even more unfortunately, Amelia Druce is not a character in the book I am currently labouring over, but the one I will start once I have finished it. So you may have to wait quite some time to learn about the tangled love lives of Amelia, Maralee, Dolphin and Jen. And in the meantime, as Dory would say, Amelia can just keep swimming. And I can be thankful that, once in a while, I can share the creative experience of a really great writer.

1 comment:

Cheri J. Crane said...

I'm so glad your book is coming together, Anna. And isn't it interesting how our characters spring to life on occasion. ;)