Last night I yanked out of my computer, with the help of a floppy disc (remember those?) plug-in player, 170 pages of a book I had started writing in 1996. The really funny thing about it is, while the subject matter is still current, the technology is not. I went to great lengths in the book to write about someone collecting information manually -- a process which, only 12 and a half years later, is completely obsolete. So much has changed, including me, that when I re read the book, I could still see and feel my hand in it, but I was at such a different place personally and in terms of life experience. So now I have another project. Rewriting the book, because I still like the story. YIKES. Add it to the to-do list!!
One of the things which I need to do is make the characters more interesting-- developing their pasts more, understanding what it is that makes them who they are, trying to see their lives and experiences from their personal perspectives --- going into their realities. Because I can see now, from books I read which I don't like and from my own inexperienced writing, that if we don't understand what makes a person tick, we cannot sympathize with their actions.
My husband picked me up the latest David Baldacci novel, The Whole Truth, at the airport bookstore. He knew I wanted A Mercy by Tony Morrison but they did not have it and he did not want to come home empty handed. I have read the first forty pages. I keep having to go back and re read the last pages I read every time I put it down, which means I won't finish it. Baldacci is a fine writer, and I used to like the things he wrote. But I can't sympathize with his characters anymore. They are not interesting enough to hold my attention.
Last week I finished the novel The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones. This is a historical novel based upon the life of the Prophet Mohamed's third wife, the child bride A'isha bint Abi Bakr. Wonderfully simple to read, it pulled me into the 7th century, and got me to understand how a woman could learn to accept being one of thirteen wives and concubines, all of whom were part of the Prophet Mohamed's life. The book left me wanting to know more about that historical point in time, one which flavors our current global perspective so piquantly.
In literature, as in life, characters are interesting because of their backgrounds and how they react to the events in their lives. The beauty of the human story is in its subjectivity, its vulnerability and in its muster being tested by circumstance.