My Creative Process: Plot and Characters

Theme for my next novel: Jealousy. I prime my mind with what others have written: Jealousy is the jaundice of the soul (John Dryden) and To jealousy, nothing is more frightful than laughter (Francoise Sagan). From the Bible: …for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God…(Bible). A biblical footnote states that jealousy is part of the vocabulary of love. I note the significance of the word, vocabulary.

I cast my mind to a locale for the novel—some place that will inspire me, allow me to set a mood. Water stimulates my imagination. There is magic in water sounds—a gurgling brook, the swoosh of the current, fish leaping, waterfowl quacking and honking. On sunny days, river water mirrors quivery reflections of forests. The motion of rivers makes me think of where the water has been and where it is going. Who bathed their feet in the water yesterday or two hundred years ago or a thousand years ago? What kinds of trees and plants grow along the banks? Depth, with its murkiness, invigorates my mind. What lies on the river bottom? A gun? A body? A rowboat sunk with bullet holes in the helm? The river atmosphere—fog, mists, vapor—creates mystery.

In “The Dry Salvages,” TS Eliot found inspiration in the river:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
is a strong, brown god—sullen, untamed, intractable.

I will read TS Eliot before and during the writing of my novel. He gets rivers.

Characters. I already have one—the protagonist, Anne Ashton. Anne is a university professor and poet, whom I’ve written about before. Her usual environment is a midwestern college campus. The last time I wrote about her, she was in Ireland on a fellowship grant. This time, she’s back home and leaving for a poetry retreat. The new story is a mystery, but it is also Anne’s story. As protagonist, she must learn something over the course of the novel.

What are her vulnerabilities? In another story, I gave Anne a Calvinist background, which left her with a tendency to be judgmental. She’s hard on others and she’s hard on herself. She makes efforts to correct these tendencies. Due to an episode in an otherwise pleasant childhood, she finds it difficult to trust people. This trait is helpful in sleuthing, but not in personal relationships. Anne has a sexy, magnetic partner, Luc Broussard, who has given her reasons in the past to be jealous. Anne’s weaknesses will be woven into the plot, as well as her strengths.

Several plots come to mind over the next few days. I write them all down, and as I do, a jealous female character emerges. I find the plot that best fits itself to my jealous female, who by now, in my imaginings, has acquired a husband, child, sisters-in-law, an old auntie, and friends. Two credible subplots grow—one stemming from her child and another, from an older member of her family.

At this point, with the exception of Anne Ashton, my characters are shadowed and still like the figures in Georges Seurat’s painting, “Study for a Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” I need to flesh them out. But first, I want to discuss getting in the creative mood. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to My Creative Process: Plot and Characters

  1. kerry white says:

    Immensely intriguing insight.

    Like

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