The Creation of Character
I love reading Ernest Gaines. In my mind he is probably the greatest crafter of character in modern literature. I remember once I read an interview with him, in which he said that he wrote the stories he did because the ghosts of his ancestors, the people he knew as a child and those that came before him, told their stories through him. He always writes in the first person, almost like a medium channeling a spirit. I remember when I read it I was floored, because it instantly reminded me of Elie Wiesel, another favorite writer of mine, who said he first felt compelled to write Night because the ghosts of his family spoke to him, entreating him not to let their tale die with them. "Remember...tell our stories." I love the thought of that.

I am thinking about inspiration tonight. The LOML asks me sometimes, "Where do the ideas come from? How do you decide who gets to live and who gets to die?" I give him the same answer you'll read in any interview with any writer, successful or not - I just get them. The characters kind of take over the story, and off they go. Only they know who lives and who dies till the end. Sometimes I feel possessed, and I am so far into the moment that I lose track of time and all concrete sense of what it is that I'm doing.

It is a kind of barter, I suppose. They get immortality. We get the (hopefully) material compensation that comes from the craft the trade.

The characters, whether real or imagined, determine the course. We only tell their stories.

26 March 2007


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