Part of my search for understanding is connection with real people, whose life experiences overlap with those of my characters. Writing at its best is a transformative process. Points of awakening, of brilliance, shine through when I as an author am amazed at what I’m discovering as I get to know my characters. Only then can I convey that sense of wonder to readers, passing along new and fascinating insights into the cultural and social milieus of my story.
I call the process of reaching out to develop characters ‘adoption’. By that I mean participants adopt characters, whose social and cultural responses they understand, and who can guide me as a write the story. Adopters will be in a very real sense co-writers.
Three characters in particular would benefit by having adopters work with me:
- Devlin Smith, who is setting out to achieve his dreams of becoming a Paralympian and lawyer;
- Marie Gilbert, who is defining herself as a First Nations activist, woman and artist in the 21st Century;
- Debbie Smith, Devlin’s mother, who is grappling with her addictions, dysfunctional history, and terminal illness.
Devlin, as the protagonist, will be the focal point these various perspectives converge on. But the characters in his life have to be real, three-dimensional, imposing, and to achieve that presence, I need help to deeply appreciate their stories.
So what am I asking of the people I hope will adopt these characters? I envision ongoing dialogue as episodes are written, conversations about how or why a character might react the way he does to a given event; the emotions that would be triggered by an incident. Most of all, I am looking for descriptions of what ‘reconciliation’ looks like to them.
In other words, I want adopters to experience what’s happening in the novel and express their cultural and social reactions. I see them as collaborators and friends, who will feel safe opening up from their points of view so that I can represent my characters with depth and integrity.