“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
A few weeks ago, I noticed quite by accident that the new novel I’m currently working on had gone sideways. Up until that time I’d been writing at quite a clip. I stopped to look at a map (dangerous things) of Europe to confirm how my character, a refugee from Eastern Europe might come to Greece. He was travelling in search of work and a better life. Would he come by sea (the way I had written it) or by land? I wondered.
Staring at the map, I saw the whole story line I’d come up with fall apart. In the real world, my character would not have traveled by sea. It wasn’t the easiest route for him to take. He would need a very good reason to make the journey the way I had envisioned it. I further discovered that he was not a refugee, or at least not in the truest sense of the word, given his European roots.
This realization came after some 75,000 hard-fought words and close to 300 double-spaced pages. So would I throw away everything I’d created or find another way?
I was prepared to go back to the beginning, start again. I’ve become used to this. I know what you’re thinking: don’t you plan this stuff out ahead? Yes of course I do. I outline (high-level), then think about concepts and themes for my stories well before I begin to write. As with life and war and other tribulations, things happen I didn’t anticipate. I have very little control as a novel takes shape.
So I rewrite, and rewrite some more until some kind of clarity comes forth and the story sticks together. Unlike life and war and other messy situations, art affords you do-overs. You can look at your mistakes and erase them. Presto. Well, not that easily, but you know what I mean.
But this time my characters (they are all involved now and needless to say, riled up) won’t let me start over. They are mouthy creations. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They (the characters, not me) refuse to be ignored or dismissed. They whisper solutions, nag me to try harder, nudge, prod and insist I not leave them hanging without a resolution.
But, I wanted to shine a light on the abysmal situation of refugees flocking into Greece on rickety boats operated by human traffickers. Many of these boats sink, leading to an untold number of deaths. This is part of the story, I insist. This is what I wanted to write about. And besides, most of the refugees who now come to Greece aren’t from Eastern Europe. They come from Syria, Gaza, Pakistan, India, and Africa.
We’re not going away, my characters reply. Figure it out lady. You’re the writer.
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