I just finished writing Chapter 12 of my novel and I introduced a new character in it. I wasn’t planning on having this character in my story. In my mind, I had a rough idea of where I was going with the story and I had already introduced the characters I needed to that end. Where did this new character come from? Why did he just pop into my story? These are questions that I don’t have the answer to. I just typed my story as it came to me and this character was born.
One of my favourite books I have ever read was On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. The book is part autobiography and part writing manual. I highly recommend that anyone who writes anything should read it. King mentions something in the book that I have heard a lot of writers say. He said that at a certain point during writing the characters take over and almost write for you. The book starts to go in directions that you hadn’t planned or imagined. I have felt this happen and perhaps it happened just now in Chapter 12.
It’s a strange feeling to think that we, as writers, create anything. Sometimes when I write I don’t know where these ideas come from. Things take shape in my words and come together in beautiful ways. It is a pleasure to see this happen and not at all scary. The story couldn’t be written without the author, that much is true.
I’m currently reading a novel by Robert J. Sawyer. He is a brilliant science fiction writer and this is the third book of his that I have read. It’s called Mindscan. In it, a writer is asked about the inspiration for Prince Scales, one of her characters in a novel. She says the character wasn’t based on anyone and that she “just made him up.” She continues;
People are desperate to believe writers base characters on real people, that the events in our novels really happened in some disguised way.
I just created this character in Chapter 12 out of thin air too. So what she is saying makes a lot of sense. The person she in having the conversation with admits that he couldn’t make up a plausible story himself and that “talents like that make the rest of us feel inadequate.”
No, if you don’t mind me saying so, it goes deeper than that, I think. Don’t you see? The idea that false people can just be manufactured goes to the heart of our religious beliefs. When I say Prince Scales doesn’t really exist, and you’ve only been fooled into thinking that he does then I open up the possibility that Moses didn’t exist—that some writer just made him up. Or that Mohammed didn’t really say and do the things ascribed to him. Or that Jesus is a fictional character too. The whole of our spiritual existence is based on this unspoken assumption that writers record, but they don’t fabricate—and that, even it they did, we could tell the difference.”
Wow, that is deep.
I remember when I was a kid and went to Sunday school. I was a bit of a brat back then, and I distinctly remember calling the teacher on this. He had told us the story about Jonah and the Whale and I tried to convince him that it was implausible and just a story. I argued that it couldn’t be true. My parents were called in to come get me and I think they were quite embarrassed. I was just speaking how I felt. At the time, I felt that the story was fabricated. I could tell the difference between a made up story and a real one. My parents had taught me the cliché about things on television not always being true. I thought it applied to everything. As such, I broke the “unspoken assumption” and caused more than a few people some discomfort. Of course, this wasn’t my intention.
I think this might be why organized religion seems to be going through a crisis as of late. This “unspoken assumption” is no longer taken as a given. It is also openly challenged. In our scientific world we can disprove some of the religious writings that we have relied on for our spiritual existence for so long. But if we step back and realize the importance of myths maybe truth is as important as we think.
I remember hearing a minister say that we are not meant to understand the Holy Trinity of Christian faith. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit being one is deliberately confusing to remind us that we can never truly understand God. And maybe we can never ever truly understand where ideas come from either. I have had poems, songs, and stories take over and seemingly write themselves. So after mulling over this topic for an hour, I am still no closer to answering my question. Where does fiction come from? We may never know.