I don’t usually experience the blank page syndrome, but I do struggle to develop characters who can take me (and readers) through the whole story. Filling out that character sheet is a fabulous help. We’re told to work with these characters, fleshing them out so well that we absolutely know what they’ll do in any given situation. Through workshops and writing books, as well as my own observations over years of reading great authors, I know this character stuff is essential. If the reader doesn’t care about the character, she’ll put the book down.
Coming up with a great character to star in book three of my historical trilogy has been tough. I sort of knew the time period, the general setting, and even the extended family. But, I didn’t have a main character. Until Sunday.
Sunshine filled Ontario’s blue skies that day so that we just had to drive out and meet it. Where could we go? First, the sugar bush beckoned and we came away with a litre of liquid gold to have with hot cross buns, a seasonal must. Then my husband and I drove a few miles to a family cemetery where I needed to get some pictures and information for my research. Personal research, that is. I just like to know my roots.
Then I thought I might show my husband the farm about which I had learned just last week, if I could find it. We struck off meandering westward until I thought I had the right road. This is rural Ontario, you see, and a few years ago the higher-ups changed the names of all the country roads. They said it was to facilitate the introduction of the 911 emergency system, but I still think someone needed some new ways to spend our tax dollars. But, as they say, I digress.
We found the place where my brother and I had lunch last week before he showed me what was two roads north up the gravel road. And my husband drove as I anxiously scanned the countryside, looking for the land, the land where my great great great grandmother, Catherine, settled eons ago. The land was in her name because her husband, William, was dead by the time the British government rewarded with land the Loyalists who fought in the War of 1812.
We found it! Two one-hundred-acre parcels of land straddling the river, the only road at that time. Catherine got a very valuable piece of property because of that river. And I spent the day thinking what it must have been like to strike out for this unknown, unsettled, tree-covered expanse, her husband dead, and her future such an unknown. I began to see Catherine and her children with their government-issued implements and their few possessions as they landed in the wilderness and built a life.
Ever since I first saw that land, green with 6-inch winter wheat, prosperous modern buildings, and smartly flowing river, I’ve wondered what kind of boat they took, how many came, and how did they ever start from nothing. And that all got me thinking about the story. I wished they had written it down and I still do. But now I’ve figured out how I might proceed.
Catherine will be my main character in book three. And I can research and imagine and wonder and decide and make it up and use old family stories and create my book, just as those pioneers built their lives, from scratch. And in this way I can preserve the story, not just for my family but for all the families whose ancestors fought the wilderness that was Canada.
As the title asks, where do you get your ideas? Is there a character who just demanded that you write his or her story? Have you had similar epiphanies in your writing journey? Consider leaving a comment to tell your story.