Saturday, October 20, 2012


Last week's NEW YORKER has a fabulous piece about the writer, Hilary Mantel, who just won the Booker for second time for her novel BRINGING UP THE BODIES, a sequel to the 2009 Bookered. WOLF HALL. Among the many interesting details of her life are several good ones about her writing process.

One of my favorites was this "Sit quietly and withdraw your attention from the room you are in until you're focused inside your mind. Imagine a chair and invite your character to come sit in it. Once he is comfortable, you may ask him questions."

The first time she tried this when she was writing a novel about a giant, the giant came in but before sitting down, he tested the chair to see if it would take his weight.From then on, she knew this technique would work for her and it has.

Have you ever tried such a technique, writers? What do you do to get inside the head of a stubborn character?.


Charles Gramlich said...

When I started writing I would imagine that I was sitting by a campfire in the forest and my character would walk out of the woods and join me. We'd have a conversation over the fire and that's how I'd get to know him.

Yvette said...

I tried, I really did try to read WOLF HALL but it is written in the present tensed which makes no sense to me as a technique for a story taking place hundreds of years ago.

I hate to be pedantic about it, but there it is. My brain just isn't happy with present tense story telling - most especially in historical novels.

Yvette said...

Of course, it's 'present tense'- jeez.

Deb said...

I made this comment a couple of days on Bill Crider's blog when Mantell won the Man Booker prize: As much as I love English history, especially the period she covers in Wolf Hall, I simply could not get into Mantell's books, they seem so slow and ponderous to me. I'd rather read some of the favorite historical fiction of my youth by people like Jean Plaidy, Margaret Campbell Barnes, and Norah Lofts.

Also, I've never written fiction, so I don't know the fiction writing process, but it seems to me that when you invite a character to sit and talk to you, that character can only provide information available to your mind. For example, if you invite a character who happens to be a mathematician to talk to you, he/she wouldn't be able to solve Fermat's theorem unless you yourself can solve it.

Ron Scheer said...

I dunno. Too much like putting the residents in charge of the asylum.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

I tend to pattern characters in my better work after people I know, as altered by the circumstances of the story. Of course, in most of my work so far (or comments such as this one), those altered folks could use (and occasionally cry out for) another draft. Or so.

However, the room one can ignore is a necessity...I'm reminded of all those garrets of folklore, the rooms with great views with the writers putting their backs to them, having the shades down.

Ever actually write in, say, a park, Patti?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't think I have ever consciously patterned a character after someone I know. They just pop into my head and if they are really people in my life, I am not aware of it.
Nope. I can only write at a computer in my house. I certainly do generate ideas everywhere though.

Anonymous said...

'I tried, I really did try to read WOLF HALL but it is written in the present tense which makes no sense to me as a technique for a story taking place hundreds of years ago.'

As far as the characters are concerned, it isn't 'taking place hundreds of years ago.'- in fact, Yvette, you moved over to the tense yourself there- but in the...present tense. Should 1984 hqbe been written in the future tense, then- in 1985- should the book be changed to the past tense because it then took place in the past,or even the past conditional tense, because it took place ina past which never happened?