Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Focussing on Your Characters

I recently shared with the members of the writers' group I belong to an article I'd read in the United Church Observer (September, 2011), an interview with theologian Marcus Borg, author of several books of popular theology. He's just written his first novel, "Putting Away Childish Things," and the interviewer was asking Borg how he found the new experience of writing fiction.

Borg admitted that for a long time writing the novel was a struggle. He found he couldn't get past the first few chapters because he didn't know what the plot was. I can relate to that.

After putting the novel aside for ten years, he decided to try a different approach: he'd start by focussing on the characters. He wrote a page about each one, who they were, where they were, what they liked, etc. Then he put them in a setting to see what would happen. "It was the breaking of an ice jam," Borg said, "and I finished the book in eight months."

He likens writing non-fiction, his usual field, to carpentry work. You know the sequence of the subject matter, and you know what topics you'll cover in each chapter. Then you just fit it all together.

I agree with what he has to say. By focussing on the characters in your fiction you know how each one will react in whatever situation he finds himself. You don't have to think about plot; the characters will help that to unfold. Then you can go back and make sure that it moves along as it should.

Write on!

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