Sunday, December 20, 2009

characters and other novelties (a previous post from 2008)

When writing a novel a writer should create living people;
people, not characters. A character is a caricature.
--Ernest Hemingway

Ernest and I don't agree on many things but I do like this quote. A good book should be filled with people who are so real that you feel joy when they feel joy and sadness when they feel sadness, among other things. I'm not sure how a writer makes the leap from coming up with a name and then a body and then the soul of a person. But I think good writing captures the soul of a character and somehow puts that on paper.

In The Frontiersman's Daughter the main character, or protagonist, is Lael (pronounced LAY-el). Bet you don't know one - it's an old-fashioned name and I'm not even sure where I came up with it. But I've been carrying Lael around in my head and heart for a long time. She is simply a composite of my childhood - all my old daydreams of those early Kentucky settlers.

When Lael's story was making the round of publishers last year, I finished the sequel to The Frontiersman's Daughter, thinking it would prove I wasn't a one book wonder. But something interesting happened as I worked on this story. I took Lael out of Kentucky and set her in Scotland, a place I've never been. This is always a danger if you haven't been there but if you research well enough you can get away with it. I really liked this story and felt it had high drama and passion and all the rest. But half-way through writing the book I started missing Lael. I had lost her voice. That's the only way to describe it. Lael in book 2 was someone else entirely and no matter what I did to make her Lael, she just wasn't. I concluded that Lael's story had been told and there would be no retelling it.

Thankfully, my publisher never asked to see it. If they had, I'm sure they would have told me I had lost Lael somewhere. Instead, the editors asked that I stay in Kentucky and write two more 18th-century novels there. Whew! So this non-Lael like book went into the drawer. Maybe at some point I'll get it out, blow the dust off, and find a name for this other character. I really like the story.

I guess this points to the mystery of writing fiction. You may think a writer is in control of eveything from the pen to the paper to what goes down on paper, but it's my experience that characters, if they're really real, have a life of their own. And that is one of the joys of writing fiction.


  1. I love the name "Lael"......have heard of it somewhere before, but can't think where. It's a really pretty name. Hope you guys are having a good weekend. It is HOT here in the 90's. Our pool is still opened! Talk with you soon.

  2. Hi Rhonda,
    Wish I could join you at the pool! Guess we're headed to the lake tomorrow for the final summer fling but have always preferred pools by far. Yes, I love the name "Lael" also and if I'd had a girl that would have been my pick. Miss you!

  3. I enjoyed this post, Laura. I think you have a very good point here about characters being people. They do seem to take on a life of their own. Part of what seemed to make Lael special was the world in which she lived. She truly came to life there. You told her story well.

    I'm glad you posted this re-run!

  4. Thank you so much, Carla. I'm so thrilled the Lord brought us together through Lael. You are such a dear friend even though we've never me:) Hopefully one day at a writer's conference or other event! Thinking of you and praying for you today!

  5. I think characters do have a life of thier's wonderful when you think one is going to be a certain way, and then they wind up going in a whole different direction. Have a wonderful Christmas! blessings,Kathleen

  6. Laura, I'm celebrating the gift of new friendships this year at Christmas. I am so blessed that the Lord acquainted us and that I can call you friend. Oh, I do hope we can spend some time in person some day, but for now it will have to be in cyberspace! How lonely our characters must have been at times back all those years ago.

  7. Carla and Kathleen, Thanks for reading and commenting! You just don't know how much it means. When your comments pop into my inbox I always, always smile:)

  8. Laura I am also glad to be called a frind of yours, I love to read your books and also your blogs, I think I follow you on everything that I susbcribe to.

    Merry Christmas


  9. Edna, I'll always think of you as my "first reader" as you were the first one to get The Frontiersman's Daughter and take time to post such thoughtful reviews on so many sights. I'll be forever grateful!! You have certainly blessed me and I thank God for you every day.

  10. I didn't catch this reposting until this morning, but I'm glad I did. I guess Kentucky is a big part of who Lael is, and taking her out of it... perhaps she was a bit lost, and that's why her voice faltered. It's such an absorbingly interesting process to me, this finding (or being found by) new story people. Where do they come from? Sometimes I barely have to scratch the surface of the first hazy image or sense I have of them, and out bleeds a whole life history of experiences and relationships and hopes and fears = a new character. It happened for me just yesterday, and I'm in the heady grip of infatuation. It might be love!

  11. It truly IS love, Lori! This might be a stretch, but I wonder if the delight we feel when we create our characters is just a shadow of what God felt when he made man? The same delight and awe and overwhelming infatuation? Infatuation in a good sense!
    Can't wait to hear about this new character of yours! When you're ready to tell, anyway:)

  12. "This might be a stretch, but I wonder if the delight we feel when we create our characters is just a shadow of what God felt when he made man?"

    I don't think it's a stretch. We're made in his image, and have the desire to create and people our worlds.