Windows of Your Novel
The Windows of a Novel
Here is a quote from Preston Fuller’s Writing Blog Human Nature and Superpowers
“A book is a lot like a window.
Rather than thinking of the book as a story with a beginning and an end, I’m starting to think of it as merely a small part of an endless story. It’s a sub-story, and while it has its own parts that are a beginning and an end for the reader, the fictional world continues past the end of the book, and began long before the beginning. The book is just a momentary glimpse into the world.
This kinda goes along with my belief that in order to make the best book you can, you need to work on a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. You need to have a sense of where the window is looking relative to the rest of the world, even if the rest of the world is never seen. But, those are just the thoughts of an author-in-progress, don’t take them as advice from a successful writer.”
Preston is so right. A story doesn’t just start with page one and stop with the words, “The End.” A novel is one event in a character or character’s lives.
I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. So the window idea on Harry’s live is freshest in my mind. I’ll use him as my example.
Harry Dresden is a detective wizard who lives in Chicago, Illinois. He keeps Chicago save from the evils of the night and from those who do black magic. But life for him does not start with his first novel Storm Front.
As we read the series, we learn his mother died in childbirth and his father died of a heart attack when Harry was six years old. He was adopted by a wizard and grew up with another adopted child, a girl.
As the series progresses, we learn his adopted wizard-mentor was of black magic. He tried to force his children into service of the dark arts. Harry refused.
At age 16, during a battle for his life, Harry kills the wizard and accidently kills the girl.
He is put on trial by the While Council of Wizards for the killings. He was not found guilty, but neither was he found innocent. He’s put under the protective care of a white wizard who becomes Harry mentor and hero, and who teaches him the right way to use magic.
The White Council doesn’t really understand Harry or trust him. They keep a close watch on him waiting for the day he slips up and they will execute him for his crimes.
All those events make up Harry Dresden’s nature. He gets into some serious trouble while protecting the innocent and stopping evil. He often looks like the guilty party. So while fighting evil, he also has to repeatedly prove himself innocent to the White Council.
There are some book series where the storyline continues uninterrupted from one book to the next. In Harry’s case, the novels are consecutive of his life, but events do not happen one after the other. Each book is a stand-alone case for him to solve.
Usually there are six months to a year in between the windows of his life. Life continues even when we are not watching over his shoulder. In each book, he gives us little synopsis of the cases and events that happened while we were away.
All the events that go on outside any particular novel make him seem like a real person, with a real life. Those events also have an affect on how he handles the cases we read about, and how he matures as a person. He doesn’t go through any huge life changes, but he does learn to trust his friends and he does pick up a half-brother he didn’t know existed.
It’s like Preston said, “…you need to work on a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. You need to have a sense of where the window is looking relative to the rest of the world, even if the rest of the world is never seen.”
And there’s another point: not everything you create for your character has to be in the book. I’m sure there are things about Harry we don’t know and may never know, but Jim Butcher knows, and it’s that knowledge that helps him create a rich story.
I didn’t know Harry had a brother until the sixed book. The previous books were no less interesting. The important thing is, Jim knew.
Now that I look back, I see where Jim used Harry’s brother as part of the storyline.
Even if I never learned who his brother was, I would still like the series. But the books would have lost a bit of richness, if Jim had not known. We might never have met that character. He would have had no affect on the plot or on Harry. And who knows if the book would have been just as good without him.
Without giving all of the spoilers away:
Harry learns his mother was from the dark side. It was the love of his farther that changed her. But someone didn’t like her leaving. She didn’t die in childbirth; she was murdered.
The White Council doesn’t trust Harry because he killed another wizard, they don’t trust him because of his mother’s background. They expect him to follow in her footsteps, in which case they will execute him. That gives a whole new light on the council and explains why they don’t like Harry.
The dark side and black magic does tempt him, but him always resists. The White Council doesn’t understand that Harry’s base is his father’s goodness and love. Harry will never turn. (At least I hope not. Jim may have other plans. But for this post, Harry never turns.)
Even though, at first, we don’t know this background information, Jim did.
Who Harry’s parents are and his childhood make up who Harry is.
An author doesn’t have to tell all, but he/she does have to know who the character is and about their background to be able to write about them. It’s how one builds and creates strong characters.
The extra work is what sets the amateurs apart from the professionals.
So what has happened to your character, and what has your character been doing outside of the window of your story telling?