Okay so my husband and I were seated among friends at a school dinner the other night and the conversation between my friend beside me went something like this:
Her: So how do you get the ideas for your books?
Me: (Stumped for a moment...after all, how do you describe the entire creative process persuasively and succinctly?) Um, uh, eh, well... (Yes, I was brilliant...)
Her: I mean, do you meet people and tell their story or what?
Me: (Laughing now at the thought that this woman was perhaps vetting me for how much to say and how likely her conversation would end up the major plot in my next novel) No, I might go somewhere and be intrigued by the lifestyle or scenery and decide to write about the people who live there. I tell the story of someone I imagine is there somewhere.
Her: But where does the story come from?
Me: The stories are just there waiting to be told. Once I meet the characters at the beginning of the book, their stories just unfold.
Okay, so now she just looks at me with her salad fork hanging somewhere between her plate and her lips as if I just told her that a multitude of personalities live in my schizophrenic mind. She thinks I'm crazy, I decided. So I shrugged my shoulders, I told her the truth...there's not much more to say. I said I'm a writer not a professor...that's not my thing.
Laying in bed later that night, I thought more about how I really do come up with my books. The more I thought about it, the more I marveled at how remarkable the process really is and how little we writers are really understood. I truly do feel like I meet my characters in the opening pages of my novels. I meet them, see what they are wearing - how they move and react to the things around them. Before long they are running the show. They show me where they have been and where they are going. It's my favorite part of writing actually.
I still remember during my last book, there came a point where my main character did something totally unexpected (even to me!) but it just felt right for her. I remember running to my husband who is always patient with my writers ramblings and said: "You'll never guess what Andie just did!" He kind of looked at me cock-eyed as if to say: "and this is news to you?"
But that's what I love. That's how I know the work is authentic and worth writing...that's how I know I'm writing something worthwhile and not simply toward an audience who wants a happy ending or a kiss here or a murder there. At the end of the day, I'm a writer because there really are a million characters out there just waiting for us to claim them and let them tell their stories.