Tell Me About Your Childhood

In a café in Marin last weekend, I met up with a friend who'd just read a draft of a novel of mine. A couple of readers have asked me to make the main female character in said novel “more likeable,” and since “main female character needs to be more likeable” is very much the sort of phrase that crops up in rejection letters, that's an issue I've been trying to address.

Hence a lot of our café conversation focused on our understanding of this particular character... we agreed that, as a rule of thumb, the better an author understands a character, the more sympathetic that character will be...

Our conversation must have set some subterranean train of thought in motion, since as I drove back to San Francisco, I suddenly realized something important – even obvious-seeming -- about this character's background. Indeed, anyone who reads future drafts of the novel will probably assume it was integral to my original concept of the character – as, on some subconscious level, it may well have been. It just wasn't yet on the page where it needed to be.

Little connection-explosions of this kind – cf. Robert Burton's description -- can be among the most gratifying moments in a novel's development, yet they're also exhausting and humbling.

Something that worries me, on an epistemological level: stories are built out of connections that just feel right, in a parts-fitting-together kind of way... which is disturbingly unscientific. The detective in Michael Chabon's The Final Solution considers that “as doctors, no doubt, psychiatrists left something to be desired, but they often made fine detectives,” and I suspect the rationale for this is that fictional detectives think the same way writers and psychiatrists and shamans think, and not the same way scientists think...

2 thoughts on “Tell Me About Your Childhood”

  1. Am currently in a very reader-hungry phase with this ms… each time I bounce it off another person I discover unexpected new resonances… Feels as if each fresh dose of feedback helps me reach another level…

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