Fleuringala, like CAIRNAERIE, began with a simple scene that grew into a short story. It was a story driven by the personalities and circumstances in which the characters found themselves. Ruby was the first, along with Arly, although in the beginning they both had different names. Just as a child grows and acquires different monikers, Ruby and Arly evolved. Then along came Tack.
The process of watching and writing as a story unfolds is a wonderful one. It is every bit as exciting as reading a good book. There is, however, one significant difference. I, as the author, have a say in what happens. I can play a part. Deus ex machina.
It is a power unlike any other. I can control the destinies of my characters, but I am—unlike the true God—limited. I must operate within the bounds of my characters’ personalities and within the context of the time and place. A few writers have successfully broken those rules. E.B. White comes to mind. But readers are clever people, and if I put my character in a situation, place, or time that doesn’t make good sense, readers know it, and that is deadly for a novelist.
Therefore, I research as I did extensively for FLEURINGALA. As a college student I had the peculiar (very peculiar) love for term papers. I loved them because I was very good at them. I also loved them because they required that I do research. I so clearly remember combing though stacks of books, through the Guide to Periodicals, and through any source materials I could find to shore up the assertions I made in my papers. My research paid off. In four years, I earned A’s on every term paper I wrote except for one. Dr. Sturm, my university’s premier professor of political science, gave me my only “B.”
It is in the research for a novel that writers can discover inspiration, affirmation, and interesting angles. From the modes of transportation common at the time to the methods of communication, from world/local events that impact people to completely random facts. When it all comes together, it is a wonderful feeling.
Of course, research is much easier in today’s world than it was only a few decades ago. Many libraries can be accessed via the Internet. And research, rather than require long hours in a library, needs only an Internet connection and time.
An accomplished writer once said—and I confess to not remembering who— that a writer can write about anything he or she can research. While the conventional wisdom has long been “write what you know,” that is only partially true in this age of information access.
The trick is to get it right. And that requires a writer to go beyond surface observations and dig deep into the lives of characters, particularly those who “lived” in an earlier age. From this expansive understanding of a specific time period, the discovery (and creation) of personality quirks in characters, this ability to invent, devise, impede, and guide your characters through the many of life’s obstacles, allows writers the freedom to create and to savor the utter satisfaction of seeing story unfold.