(Article originally published 27/2/2016)
“Listen to your inner self, it knows you best.”
― C. Elizabeth
There’s a phrase I coined a number of years ago – book whispering – that I use to describe that magical moment when a book you’re working on, takes on a life of its own. But why book whispering? Because sometimes your story will talk to you in a very quiet voice so you have to listen carefully!
As many authors know far too well, writing a book can be a convoluted process. Even if you start with a well-thought-out plan, often the story will start to strain against its leash, demanding to head off in a completely different direction. This conjures up a lion tamer-type mage, with the author battling the book every step of the way and brandishing their metaphorical chair to tame the beast. However, for me at least, the reality is very different to this sort of power struggle and certainly far more nuanced.
Creating a story often requires a degree of subtlety. Yes, when I start, I may have a reasonable idea of the action story arc, but it's actually my characters who tend to come to life during the writing process and start whispering in my ear things like who am I, what’s my backstory, my motivation, where am I emotionally heading…and most importantly of all…how do you plan to break my heart?
I sometimes think that authors are the evilest people on the planet, plotting how to put their poor characters through every sort of living hell they can possibly conceive! But here’s the thing... A story isn't only a journey for the characters but is also one for the author. As challenges test the character, often the author is living their characters' fraught existences, right along with them. And this is a very good thing as great writing should always come from the heart.
Also, those questions that your characters ask you, are sometimes actually the questions you are probably asking yourself...about life, the universe, and everything. Writing allows a writer to hold up a mirror to themselves, or even to society, as is often the case in dystopian fiction. In these rapidly moving times with all its challenges, it's little wonder that this particular genre has enjoyed so much popularity.
For me when one of the books that I’m working on starts whispering to me, I know it’s a sign that something extraordinary is happening in my subconscious. And it’s that potential to suddenly be wandering off the path that you planned, to explore the new direction that the characters, or story, insist you try, to be surprised, that I often find leads to the most rewarding results.
My latest work in progress (WIP), is a story that has gone through countless drafts over the last ten years, as I tried to work out exactly what book it wanted to be. But at last, I have finally heard it whispering back to me with crystal clarity. Now, for the first time, I’m closing in on the story it truly deserves to be. And right there is one of the many, many reasons, that I'm a writer...a never-ending sense of exploration as a story comes into being...and maybe even a chance to understand oneself, and even the world that one lives in, just a little bit better.