Yesterday, I laid on the sofa and watched a movie called Starting Out in the Evening. It was about an aging novelist, working on his last novel, with lots of other plot lines going on, including a very young woman doing her thesis on his prior work.
One of the scenes went like this. She has asked him how he decides what to write.
~ o ~
"I start with a character. Usually just a fleeting glimpse of a character. With Tenderness, I had a picture of a woman being asked to leave a museum because she'd run her hand over one of the statues. I had no idea who she was or why she was touching the statue. I wrote the book to find out."
"How do you find out?"
"You just sit down at the typewriter and follow the character around. It's like being a detective. You write page after page after page just finding out who they are. You wait for them to do something interesting." He sighed. "That's one reason why it takes me so long. Sometimes they don't do anything interesting for a long time. And sometimes they never do. There are five or six books that I've begun but never finished. I would spend a year or two, even longer, following these characters around, but they finally never did anything that was interesting enough."
~ o ~
I'm sort of doing that, just not at the keyboard. In my head, I'm following my characters around, eavesdropping on their conversations, on their life. I've built a couple of scenes in my head, or at least snippets of scenes. Most of the time, I'm not sure how the character got there. Like his image of the woman in the museum, I have flashes of things happening that haven't solidified in my head.
Where am I getting hung up? Let me give you an idea. I know that Beryl has an issue with stairs. I know how she reacts to them. I just don't know why. (I have a few ideas, but whatever I decide may affect the character of her father or mother.) I know that her mother commits suicide, but I don't know how. I know that Beryl sees her dead brother, but I don't know how crazy she is. Is she totally normal except for the fact that she sees and talks to Jeryl? Or is she off the scales looney-tunes? And if she is seriously, all-in crazy, how do I write her character? First person or third person. Because she wouldn't know she was crazy, would she? And finally, how do I bring in the back story, the real back story, not just what Beryl remembers, especially if she is deeply, proundly bonkers?
All these things, and many more, need to be answered. But then again, this is the fun part.