Settling where you like. (Tips from the Masters #4)

Well I promised a boob quote (aka: a quote on writing from a female author) and have hopefully delivered what will be a thought provoking one.

So far in our tips from the masters we have covered such literary greats as Kerouac, Hemingway and one of my personal heroes Twain.

Moving forth into slightly more obscure territory I have chosen great author (and fellow Canadian) Alice Munro who said:

“A STORY IS NOT LIKE A ROAD TO FOLLOW … IT’S MORE LIKE A HOUSE. YOU GO INSIDE AND STAY THERE FOR A WHILE, WANDERING BACK AND FORTH AND SETTLING WHERE YOU LIKE AND DISCOVERING HOW THE ROOM AND CORRIDORS RELATE TO EACH OTHER, HOW THE WORLD OUTSIDE IS ALTERED BY BEING VIEWED FROM THESE WINDOWS. AND YOU, THE VISITOR, THE READER, ARE ALTERED AS WELL BY BEING IN THIS ENCLOSED SPACE, WHETHER IT IS AMPLE AND EASY OR FULL OF CROOKED TURNS, OR SPARSELY OR OPULENTLY FURNISHED. YOU CAN GO BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN, AND THE HOUSE, THE STORY, ALWAYS CONTAINS MORE THAN YOU SAW THE LAST TIME. IT ALSO HAS A STURDY SENSE OF ITSELF OF BEING BUILT OUT OF ITS OWN NECESSITY, NOT JUST TO SHELTER OR BEGUILE YOU.”

—Alice Munro

Okay it’s a bit of a mouthful, and Munro is somewhat known for her poetic prose but at least you aren’t digesting this long quote on a Monday morning!

Read it, let the foundations of that quote settle in your soul for just a little while. What are you seeing? For me this quote has always provided me with a clear visual of my house, for each story I write it’s a little different. It begins as a pioneer shack, held together with hope, horsehair and dung; but quickly gets an addition or two as those who have built it (the characters) grow into themselves, discover their own hopes and create a direction of their own choosing.

It’s funny, when I set down my manuscript and then return later, to see the changes that have happened to the house. Maybe a garden has been planted, or a brick facade has been added, but no matter what the changes, the only thing I know for sure is that there will be changes.

“Impossible” said a non-writer friend of mine, who was of the opinion that it was my book and my characters, so why should circumstances change when they’re out of my periphery.

That is the beautiful thing about creating art from the written word. My characters are mine, yes, but they are also living a life of their own somewhere in my subconscious so that when I set them down and return to them, their goals, wants, desires, all of those things that have built their house have also changed, just as our own direction in life sometimes changes as we trudge through life.

My stories are built out of their own necessity because the characters who toil to raise their literary houses do it with the sense of realism borne of being human. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.

The best part of all of this? Spending a quiet moment walking back through those rooms at the conclusion of a book, when the writing, editing and bleeding is done. Running your fingers over the dents in the walls and admiring the stains on the carpet. It will make you thankful, and, if your lucky, it will make you thirsty to build another!

How about you? Do you write on a road, or build a house? How do you find your characters change when you step away for just a little while, if at all?

Happy writing!

M.

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