When the Characters You Create Are the People You Love

I started writing my new novel at the beginning of this year. It’s a story I have wanted to tell for a long time, but postponed for years, waiting to become better at expressing my thoughts and feelings on paper, wiser, and more experienced. Well, I’m not sure if I have reached the pinnacle of the craft — my own craft — but I’m running out of time.

The book I’m writing is based on the fictional chronicle of my family. It includes my wife’s family as well, and when I close my eyes I see it as two rivers that converge into one.

I don’t have a plan. I mean I do, but not on paper, with each scene sketched meticulously, and every character defined. No, it is all in my head. What I remember comes to me in bursts, new memories overwhelming old ones, and mixing with events I imagine and create out of nothing to achieve progress. I follow a chronological time line that is set — here is the time of the beginning, and here is the end — except for flashbacks that I cannot avoid, that interrupt the flow, but are necessary to add depth to the story and flesh out my protagonists.

In this novel, based on the real characters that are my family, I am encountering unforeseen challenges. This is a tribute to my parents and grandparents, an expression of my love and admiration. They were beautiful and generous people, and their stories represent meaningful examples of what life and literature is all about. But like all of us, they had their share of misfortunes and shortcomings. They made mistakes. They were human. So how do I describe their weaknesses without feeling that I taint their memory? How do I balance their flaws and their attributes? How do I avoid taking sides? So many years have passed and yet it is hard to put on paper, without blushing, that my father or uncle or grandfather might have cheated on his wife. Do I need to depict their sex life? What is important and relevant to me might not be interesting to my readers and, I ask myself where to deviate from reality to make it a novel, with a clear and strong plot.

So far, I have written 200 pages (53,600 words), and I think I’ve laid out about one fifth of the total book. I intend to complete the project, then look at it globally, and, with all the pieces at my fingertips, like a giant puzzle, take it apart and start eliminating, rearranging, consolidating, and generally rewriting to create a beautiful and harmonious composition. Most novels can benefit from serious cutting, and I expect mine to go through that process as well. Yet, while I don’t necessarily want my novel to be excessively long, in the end, it will be as long as necessary to embrace my world and a lifetime of memories.

My wife, who read what I wrote so far, complimented me. She said my characters come alive like never before because I know them intimately and love them. I confessed I struggle with certain aspects of my work, and she suggested I put my thoughts in my blog.

This is personal, I told her. My blog should be interesting, concise, original, and sincere.

She said it will be, if it came from my heart.

Please comment, recommend and share.

Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.