DIFFERENT NOVEL: DIFFERENT PROCESS
Do different novels develop differently? For me, I’d say it depends on which part of you is doing the writing. Let me explain.
When I began The Osgoode Trilogy comprised of Conduct in Question. Final Paradox and A Trial of One, I was practising law and raising three children—many years ago. All three novels are exciting stories—in the legal suspense genre—of murder and fraud on one level contrasted with themes of love, compassion and forgiveness on another.
Lawyer, Harry Jenkins, is the protagonist of The Osgoode Trilogy and was inspired by my senior law partner—a fine and wonderfully kind, humane gentleman, with whom I had many conversations about life and the law. And so, Harry Jenkins grew exponentially throughout the three novels.
In Conduct in Question, a Jekyll and Hyde character dubbed the Florist terrorizes the city of Toronto. As he evolved, the Florist realized that what he wanted most in life was the experience of a sense of compassion. With that and his love of art, he became a much deeper and richer character than your usual serial killer. Fortunately, I’ve never met anyone like him, but we are always aware from the media that such people exist. And we all have some lurking fascination with the dark side of human nature. Did that character come from within me or from outside?
In Final Paradox and A Trial of One, one of Harry’s elderly clients, Norma Dinnick, keeps you [and Harry] guessing. Is she a vulnerable old soul in need of Harry’s protection or the conniving mastermind of a criminal fraud? She was inspired by a client of mine, who actually was a vulnerable old soul. And so, many, but not all, of these characters were inspired by sources outside of me.
The fourth book, provisionally entitled The Drawing Lesson, developed quite differently from the trilogy. With a brand new protagonist, Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter, an entirely different world of art, not the law had to be created.
A writer/friend of mine had bet me that I could not write a novel without murder or fraud. [I was getting a reputation.] And so, I began to write something “romantic”. Thirty pages later, I was getting bored and a little annoyed with both Richard and Daphne who were supposed to be “getting together” on a train to Venice. Not enough was happening and I began entertaining myself with thoughts of murder on the Orient Express.
At that moment, inspiration struck in a very strange way. An imagined character appeared in my den and stood just over my shoulder. Right away, I knew his name was Alexander Wainwright and to my imagined delight he looked like the movie actor Donald Sutherland. That’s how Alexander Wainwright was born.
From that moment on, the writing of this novel has been quite different from the trilogy. In the trilogy, some of the foremost questions were what will happen next and why is that character like that? And so, you can see it was a much more conscious process.
With Alexander, I was not sure how the plot would develop—not until he revealed more of himself to me. His story [and those of other characters] have come to me in bits and pieces like wispy sorts of fragments floating up.
Many years ago, I wrote a short story which has been published entitled The Thief, which I wrote very quickly over two evenings. The main character is named Celia. Her problem is that she seems “sealed off” from life and is incapable of forming any satisfying relationships. She has found her way into The Drawing Lesson as a major character, having sat on the sidelines for years waiting for a bigger role. Now she has demanded her place in this novel.
One rule which I developed was not to throw anything out until I had achieved a first draft. No matter how unrelated it seemed, I had to keep it. Often, I felt like an archaeologist unearthing either garbage or precious gems. I promised not to decide which was which until much later on. And this rule has turned out to be a good one.
So, after all this musing, what is the difference between the writing of the trilogy and The Drawing Lesson?
I think it’s this: The Drawing Lesson comes from a different place within me. In it, characters, events have risen up from my subconscious. How else to explain Wainwright’s “walking into” my den—his being almost fully formed for me to discover. Then, after years, Celia elbows her way into the manuscript, demanding time to tell her story. The rule of not throwing anything out suggests to me that things, only my subconscious knows, are rising up to tell me what to do. [By the way, I’m a Jungian if you hadn’t already guessed]
The Osgoode Trilogy was formed more by conscious effort—imagining characters and events, raising and considering issues. And I told the characters what to do—or so I thought. Consequently, I think the whole process must be different. One is more conscious planning and the other—the floating up of images and perceptions in the subconscious.
Incidentally, I believe I will win the bet because, although there are a few deaths in the new novel, there are no murders—or none of any significance.
Please come back the next time. As I work on The Drawing Lesson, I’ll be talking about all the issues that arise. I’d love to hear your thoughts.