Shocking revelation: Writers can’t even play god in their own novel

“George had been the detective who had identified the opportunity for us. We trusted him with the entirety of our reputation on which our lives were built. He had been working for my family for decades, since I had been a child. He had been the one who had been instructed to follow me to London, to keep a watchful eye on my behaviour. If it hadn’t been for George, working for my parent’s distrust of their own child, I would have been jailed for my naivety. As it was, George knew all of our secrets, including Laurence’s own dalliance with the law at twenty-one. He had been naive too. We had that in common, Laurence and I. Of course, I would never have known about this commonality if George hadn’t done his homework on my fiancé. Still, it fit: our pasts equally as dubious as our vulnerability. Therefore it seemed logical that George would also acquire a child for us when those discoveries of his had prevented us from legally adopting one. I didn’t care where Rachel had come from – I cared only that she was now with us, her parents, and that she had a good life from therein. We had worked hard to ensure this was the case.”


Believe it or not, I didn’t know all of the above about Penelope, one of my characters from my current novel, until I had written it in this first draft. Of course I had known Rachel was not her child, and that she and Laurence had obtained her under dubious circumstances because they could not adopt legally. But I had never really understood why that was. And suddenly, I realise I’ve been telling the story to myself incorrectly. Madeline and Laurence don’t have an affair and run away together, taking Rachel with them…Madeline ruins Penelope and Laurence precisely because Laurence won’t run away with her and allow her to be a mother to her biological daughter.

While I understood the old author adage of characters writing the story for you, I never really believed that is truly how it was. I thought it was a creative way of saying the answer was there in the writer’s subconcious just waiting to appear on the page. But I’ve been trawling through my own mind for weeks, months even, to try and determine what it was that didn’t sit right with Madeline and Penelope’s relationship. Now I know, all thanks to Penelope revealing herself to be just as flawed as Madeline, not by my reckoning, but by some accident of the imagination sited within my muse. I honestly didn’t even think this would be the case, and if you had asked me fifteen minutes before I wrote that paragraph above I would have defended Penelope’s honour with zeal and in no circumstance would have lebelled her just as devious as Madeline. But this is the way it appears to be – and I feel happy with it, more than that: I feel an immense sense of relief that I understand Penelope (perhaps for the first time) and can justify her relationship with Madeline, both in the past and the present of the novel. All of a sudden I think maybe this novel still has that chance of being what I dreamed it to be and I can’t now imagine labelling it just as the novel that taught me my craft and putting it aside, as I was fearful of doing in my last post.

Amazing, isn’t it? Characters really do come alive on the page, even to the surprise of us authors, who deny them free-will simply by determining the story we set out to tell and are trying, but failing, to play God.


One response to “Shocking revelation: Writers can’t even play god in their own novel

  1. Pingback: Reconsidering the Rewrite | The struggle to be a writer that writes

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