I’m reading a fascinating piece of historical/mystery/thriller fiction–Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott–and I came across a most perceptive and beautifully written description of the writing process and how our characters can come to haunt us as authors:
“Writing can be a haunting, I said, and you said that was a cliche…There is something haunting about it, I said, perhaps because of that heightened sensibility, because you spend so much time listening for the words. You make a character from nothing, a few words, fragments of people you know or have seen from afar, and once they are up and walking they don’t just come and go at your will; they begin to be demanding, appearing at awkward times, doing things you wouldn’t have dreamed they could; they come upon you suddenly when you are asleep or making love. And I’m not talking about the sudden apparition of ideas for plots or new episodes–that happens too–I am talking about people who exist only in your head but who appear in your living room when you have temporarily forgotten they existed, when you have closed your study door on them. It’s a kind of possession. You begin to feel you are being watched.”
Cover of "Ghostwalk" by Rebecca Stott
This happens to me frequently. It’s so difficult to leave the story behind in my office. I’ll be sitting at dinner or talking with a friend or even sitting in the temple (gasp!) and suddenly my characters are running through my head, and I can’t help but feel guilty. It’s not that I wasn’t concentrating. It’s only that the story has such a hold on my mind, consciously and subconsciously, that it must run its course until it is finished.
You’ll find, if you look on Goodreads, that the book gets a lot of 2-star and 3-star ratings, and being a third of the way into it, I can understand why. This is the type of book that requires patience, for the storyline is not clear and easy to follow. But the writing is superb and her grasp of the historical elements is enviable.
Something else happened this morning that points to another ghostly aspect of writing. As an author, I forget that my book is out there affecting others in some fashion (hopefully, for good). For me, it lived while I was working on it and I have since become “possessed” by another story, other characters. But it still lives for any of its new readers.
So what happened? My daughter (who is at BYU) called me to say that she and her new visiting teaching companion were getting acquainted with new sisters on their route. As she spoke of herself and her family with one of these students, she talked of my being a writer, and the girl appeared to recognize the title of my novel, The Reckoning. Sure enough, when they looked it up online, she said it was her brother-in-law’s favorite novel. Someone named Mike who lives in Texas. I don’t get a lot of feedback like that from complete strangers, so it certainly was gratifying. More than that, it affirmed that these books we write have lives of their own. We send them out like children and they form relationships all by themselves.
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