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.
Reports are rife about the waning interest in literary fiction, its last generation of snoozing readers cruising over the horizon, their novels left opened, face-down on their laps. There’s no disputing the evidence, which leaves writers like myself two choices: accept the dreary plot-line, or introduce a shift.
I’m opting for the latter. It’s time for me to recalibrate both the scope and intent of what it means to be an author, and more precisely, an author whose chosen mode is LitFic. I have to renew and expand my creative cycle.
Literary Fiction: Post 2 of 3
I recently came across a Facebook post in one of the writers’ groups I have joined in which a fellow member lamented the frustrations of a ‘wannabe’ writer.
I responded, “Writing is not about writing. That’s the paradox of our vocation – a quirk of soul that keeps writers at it for decades, whole lifetimes, sometimes without ever being published or making money at it.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘wannabe writer’, only a ‘hafftabe’. Yes, the craft is important; true, we must pay attention to promoting and selling books if we want society to provide an income that allows us to write more; of course we want our stories to resonate beyond the closet shelf, into the greater consciousness, to be reimagined in the minds of readers.
Literary Fiction: Post 1 of 3
Two recent reports, one in Canada and the other England, have brought to the fore how writers, particularly of literary fiction, are struggling.
The Writers’ Union of Canada released Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativety (See full report) in 2015. One of its key findings was that writers incomes in this country have declined 27 per cent since 1998, and that incomes from writing for 80 per cent of writers are below the poverty line. Says the report:
These results represent a cultural emergency for Canadians. If we want a strong and diverse publishing and cultural industry, it is essential that creators are reasonably and fairly compensated… Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity, The Writers Union of Canada, 2015
Similarly, Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction, (See full report) published by the Arts Council England, found that sales of literary fiction in England are below what they were in the 1990s, and fewer than 1,000 writers sell enough books to make a career of writing.