Tuesday, September 03, 2013

How to Fall in Love … with your Novel

attraction You’ve always had the idea in the back of your mind to write a novel “someday,” but that’s one elastic time frame. How to make the first move? As with all relationships, the action starts with a spark. For me, it was a TV show documenting an Indian’s decision to leave his family and renounce the world according to ancient principles of sanyasi. “Do they really still do that? “ I asked my husband. Suddenly I had a thousand questions, and I needed to explore them through writing.”I never know what I think about a subject until I’ve written on it,” Faulkner said.

romance I drafted a few poems on the subject, then tried it as a story. I flirted with the possibility that my project could develop into a novel. I entertained ideas for a protagonist who had to deal with more than Sanyasi man’s yoke of tradition and conflicting familial expectations. I began to wonder how his wife felt. What was she like, anyway? A portrait of my fierce matriarch Amma emerged from under my pen. I set her in a milieu, got her into trouble. The conflict appeared as the character of Alice, the American “unsuitable bride” to a favorite son.

passion I became absorbed with Indian myths, customs, and philosophy that would flesh out my characters. My research took me on a wild ride: I learned to cook my characters’ favorite dishes, played the music they listened to, learned to speak a few words of Tamil. The overarching theme of divided loyalties in the work took shape as my characters ran amok in interesting ways, startling me. They invaded my dreams. I slept with a notepad ready to receive unconscious insights, and spent my waking hours focused on my story.

intimacy At a certain point, you’ve gained entry into the characters’ heads and they begin to sound distinct from one another. Would Amma really respond that way to a stewardess? Did the subversive vibe suit Alice better than Nela? The mystery of creating takes the writer over, and the creations become palpable, even more insistent on their own agenda. Listening to my characters' desires is similar to listening to my own intuition, the same small voice that can so easily be drowned out.

commitment During this stage, you can count on a test of endurance. You are tired. You have compassion-fatigue for your characters. You wish they would shut up. The blandishments of the real world you were so recently able to resist, are irresistible now. You pick up a fashion magazine for the first time in ages. The phrase I’ll write tomorrow pops into your mind, and it seems ok to cheat on today’s session. All right. So take a break. The work continues underground and seeps through in dreams, if you're lucky -- and finally, out of desperation, disgust, deadlines or something more positive, you'll feel a familiar surge of energy one fine day. What are they doing? you'll wonder about your people. You'll pick up your pen. You'll find out.

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