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The Magic Moment

My novel-writing process is generally pretty organic. I don’t typically spend a lot of time beforehand plotting out what the arc of the story will look like, what events will take place where or when, any of that.

Instead, I start with a character, and begin exploring what that character’s up to, what their life is like, what they’re thinking about the events unfolding around them. I get to know them, and introduce them to my reader.

Of course, at first, this material is all coming from my own conscious thoughts and decisions and research and intentions for the character.

Eventually, though, my character starts to speak for himself (or herself). I can almost feel them draw that first shuddering breath of life, as they cast my hand off their shoulder and say to me, “I’ll take it from here.”

That’s a magical moment for me, and it’s when I know I’ve got a story – and after that point, it’s just a matter of keeping up with my characters as their story unfolds, writing it down as they tell it to me.

Yeah, I still sometimes take control and make something happen, whether for dramatic purposes, or because events on the calendar by which my character is living are pressing on me.

For the most part, though, I let my characters lead the way, solving their problems, feeling their hurts, living their lives. It’s not a very structured way of writing a novel, but it works pretty well for me.

Questions of Faith

At the time and places where my novels are set, religion was a very important part of people’s private lives – perhaps even more so than it is today.

Some of the Founders were, famously, unconventional in their approach to faith, but for the most part, my characters’ relationship with God or the divine powerfully influenced how they saw the world and dealt with the events that unfolded around them.

This makes writing these aspects of their personae a substantial challenge for me, as a modern-day agnostic.

On the one hand, I can approach each of my characters’ inner beliefs with a more-or-less unjaundiced eye, as I do not find any of the common faiths of the that time to be more or less “right” than the others.

On the other hand, I have to really work at adequately illustrating how the nuances of the Quaker belief are drawn from the Bible, or how Calvinist thought would have animated the thoughts of a man struggling to recover from a crushing personal loss.

For a person of no particular religious belief, I spend an inordinate amount of time when I’m writing studying Biblical passages and consulting with friends whose innate sense of faith can lend me insights. It’s an interesting problem for me as a writer, and one that I enjoy tackling.

Write What You Want to Know

I know, I know – we’re supposed to write what we know, first and foremost, and I’ve done my fair share of that, including a whole book on how small businesses can use the Internet, an article on meadmaking, and dozens of shorter pieces about topics that I knew a little something about.

But I enjoy taking things in a different direction with my writing, too.

As a person with very widely divergent interests, it’s easy for me to get sucked into studying up on a topic that grabs my attention. Now, I have an excuse to do so – it’s for my novel.

I’ve never seen a tobacco plant in person in my life – but after writing The Declaration, I’m willing to bet that I could raise one to maturity successfully. I’m also willing to bet that I could not make a wrought-iron fireplace poker or shear a sheep or build a birchbark canoe — but I have a deeper appreciation for those who can and do practice such arts.

I’ve picked up all sorts of interesting tidbits in the course of my writing, and they’ve enriched my own experience of the world. I hope that they do likewise for my readers, so that I have ample opportunity to go on learning more about the topics that grab my fancy.