Friday, 4 August 2017

Other Worlds

Footnotes is a new link-up hosted by Ashley and me. For quotation obsessees (and isn't that all of us?). This month's prompt is: a quotation from an author.

Adams Carvalho
“Characters pre-exist. They are found. They reveal themselves slowly – as might fellow-travellers seated opposite one another in a very dimly-lit railway carriage.” ~ Eudora Welty

I had to Google this quotation to find its source, Eudora Welty. A Goodreads search told me she’s a twentieth-century writer from Mississippi. I did not know this before. These words were simply written on a scrap of lined paper, stuck to my wall: a jotting from an English lesson some year or two ago, copied down without reference. Nonetheless, I have long loved this quotation and often thought about it.

Characters are not names and eye colours and favourite foods, bullet pointed in a notebook. They are not stick figures. They are at first the whisper of an idea, a shadow, and slowly they move out of darkness and the writer sees them, fully human, having waited there all along.

Often the characters I write surprise me; they do, say or think things completely unexpected, and I look down at my hands, my pen, and think, I am a vessel for someone else.

Is a writer therefore a creator or a conduit? I am a prophetess, looking through the veil from this world to another. Think of fantasy lands; do they not spread, real and vast, far beyond the brains of their writers? Does George RR Martin know every complexity, every inhabitant, of Westeros? Did Tolkien look upon Middle Earth with the benevolent smile of a god; or did he gaze up at its hills and wonder? I think it was the latter. I think there is a third space, between our physical world and the writer’s abstract brain, where all the multitudes of voices from fiction dwell. A parallel universe? A series of parallel universes, bobbing against each other like a conglomeration of stars? Perhaps.

Because it’s true, isn’t it, that readers find things in books which the author did not knowingly place there. Think of those times when you find in a book something so exquisitely specific, so pertinent, it makes you sit back, blinking with recognition. Haven’t you found yourself in the books you read? You have known the book, as the author themselves did not know it. But the truth you have found is real, valid, not merely a cheap insertion of your circumstances or emotions. It is there, shining from the page. Must it not, then, exist somewhere, somewhere neither the author’s brain nor yours?

It amazes and excites me, this shadowland of people, places and ideas, just waiting for someone to discover then. All the books I’ve not yet written, all the characters I haven’t met, seem to float around me, like fish lying deep out of sight in a still dark pool.

To return to Welty’s image of the train: I am a passenger on a journey, heading I don’t know where, and all the possible destinations fill me with wonder. What a privilege, to pull back the curtain and look upon another world, here in the dimly-lit railway carriage.

Agata Wierzbicka_Hidden
[source] // Agata Wierzbicka
ft. my wall


  1. Excellent! Thanks very much for sharing - I believe I'll be trying this link up, too. :)

  2. your handwriting, man. so prettttty.

    I love this idea. characters are so very personal, and yet, they are also their own person. parts of them you create and parts of them you discover over time, and not one is exactly the same as the other. such a beautiful concept.

    1. Ely, you're so kind! Characters are amazing. So much love in my heart for all my beaut team!

  3. It all comes down to characters. Typically, I start stories with someone doing something, and everything builds around that first sentence. I like to construct my stories from relationships between my various characters and relationships between my characters and the physical setting, though I also try to take into account full societies of people.

    1. It really does. Relationships are at the heart. But yeah, societies are really interesting; that tension between the personal and the political is something I love to explore!

  4. Okay can I just straight up say that everything you write is flawless. That bit that said "Is a writer therefore a creator or a conduit? I am a prophetess, looking through the veil from this world to another. Think of fantasy lands; do they not spread, real and vast, far beyond the brains of their writers?" completely got me, and reminded me that I'm so chuffed to have such great writer blogger friends.
    Yes yes yes, I've found bits of myself in characters I've read about. I feel like characters may be personal to the writers themselves, but can also manifest something of great importance to the reader that could be taken in an entirely different way.
    And um, is that your handwriting in the final image? Because that handwriting is flawless and if it is yours then I am insanely jealous X)
    Also, do you think you'll forever be changed after your African experience? Like I'm just super curious, has it changed anything in you or what you think? I feel like I'd think about it every day haha.

    1. Amy, you are SO NICE THANK YOU SO MUCH?!!! Seriously, bro, this is the best comment ever!!!!

      Yes, that is my handwriting! I've been planning for a while to do a post about why I handwrite first drafts, and I think I defs will because my handwriting has got so much love in these comments! XD

      Re Kenya, yes, totally, I still do think about it every day and it changed me so much! In what ways, you ask? Why Amy, there's a post for that! XD

      (Srs, thanks so much for this lovely comment!)

  5. The characters seem to create themselves. I am one of those authors who is constantly surprised by what my characters do. I love how you put it so eloquently. I am in awe of that handwriting.

    1. It's amazing how they do it, isn't it? Thank you, Skye! <3

  6. It's so strange and fascinating to create characters that are different than yourself.

  7. Love this quote. ^ ^

    1. Same! Glad it struck a chord with you, too.

  8. So, so true! I love this! There were so many times when younger me would brainstorm a character with a list of traits and what I wanted them to be like. But then I started writing them and was like, "Where did this person come from?" I'm just glad I wasn't persistent then on my own way. XD It's so much more fun to write into a character. Although I do still write a short summary of them after discovering a character, just so I keep everything straight in my head.

    On a side note, I've been listening to this podcast called Writing Excuses, and instead of using the term "pantsing," they usually say "discovery writing." I really love that term because that's what "pantsing" is about. Discovering the characters and story as you go.

    1. I'm so glad! I often think about a character for a bit, discovering random details, and then I write down their name and age and everything I know about them. When I'm getting it on paper, it helps, because I have to answer a set of questions ie do they have siblings? Parents? Where are they from? And answering those opens up whole new worlds of what they're like. It's funny: I can never work out if I brainstorm best on paper on in my head (in the shower/while swimming/on a walk/when I'm meant to be thinking about something else). They kinda feed off each other.

      That sounds cool! I am definitely a discovery writer!!! (Though I have made lots of plot leaps with Some of the Trees?? And I think I am actually going to try and plot it before I write it?? Because it is the last one. I'm not going to have nearly as much as wriggle-room.)

    2. That's awesome! Sometimes I figure that stuff out and sometimes Beautiful People makes me stop to think about it. XD Uh, I never thought about whether I'm more productive on or off paper? I used to brainstorm a lot, whole scene threads before writing. But the past couple of years, I've been so busy, I don't have time to think of writing when I'm not writing? Which is sad.

      (Ugh, yes. The last of Oddball is going to have to be plotted too. Just because, it's the last one and I only have a few things that I knew for sure are going to happen. The weird idea too. The timeline and world is too intricate to just pants, unfortunately. But I'm def looking forward to pantsing through some characters. ;) When I do that. . . *ahem* Sooo, the third book is called Some of the Trees? Love it!)

    3. Hahaha, BP is so great! That is sad. Life sucks! *ahem* OK I don't mean that, but it sucks when you don't have time to write!!! (NOT looking forward to that during uni. I feel like my gap year has been so great because I've legit been writing for AT LEAST an hour a day for more than a year now. Not sure how I'm going to readjust to academic life when that no longer happens!!!)

      Ooh, I thought you'd written them all! And were now editing. Huh. Who knew! And yes, it is, I'm surprised I've never told you that before! Hopefully it won't be too confusing with Corrie's WIP ... XD

  9. *is speechless*

    *except not really because I have a comment to write*

    EM. THIS IS HEART-CATCHINGLY GORGEOUS AND TRUE AND PROFOUND. (<---basically all the ingredients necessary to make an INFJ happy)

    I wanted to quote (ha, no pun intended) all my favorite bits until I kept reading and realized that would be the whole post. Love that quote about discovering your characters. I'm in that stage afresh right now with Snow White. Skadi and Torben are mysteries to me right now, and if they behave like most of my characters, it may take several pages of playing coy with me before I start to know them, really KNOW them.

    So, so true about finding more in a book than what was written! I'm convinced that all those classic novels and poems that get studied to death in high school or uni have been refabricated into something a tiny bit more than, or a tiny bit different from, what the original authors were thinking. You know? Oh, the curtains are blue! What do you think that means? The man is depressed; he misses his wife, who only wore blue; the curtains are a sad substitute for the sky he is blocking out; THE HOUSE ITSELF IS CRYING BECAUSE THE WINDOWS ARE EYES ANS THEY ARE BRIMMING WITH BLUE-! Ahem. That was all hypothetical, btw. XD

    But back to the point, it always amazes me when beta readers make connections I didn't even SEE after poring over the story for months, if not years. How they each bring their own lens to the tale and come out with slightly different shades. It boggles my mind. It's humbling, really.

    Oh, and almost gasped out loud at your line about Tolkien gazing at his hills in wonder! <333 Something about that mental image is so perfect. And it reminds me to step into my stories with a sense of wonder. To not be so task-driven that I feel I must hammer the details out of those hills, but to be caught up in the joy of creation. Or discovery, whichever it may be.

    As you can see, I adored this post. ^_^


      Skadi and Torben are such great names. I hope it goes really well, you three getting to know each other!

      Erm, so, the blue curtains thing. I know that's an example/joke/meme that gets thrown around a lot, but I can't read it without thinking of 15yo boys who put their hand up in English lessons and say “but how do you know the author meant any of this?" And I'm like AUTHORS DO THINK ABOUT STUFF, YOU KNOW, IT'S NOT JUST RANDOMLY SMASHING WORDS ON THE PAGE. And things like colours are choices. When I choose the colour of a dress or a door or a stained glass window, I think about what it means. I'm always making choices, even if they're partially subconscious. However, I did study The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood at school, and my English teacher told us she'd read some feminist crit of the book that said the section where a character gives birth is near the centre of the novel, so if you open it to the birth chapter it's like “the open legs of the novel". We had a bit of a laugh about that one!

      YOU ALMOST GASPED OUT LOUD???? You're the best!!! <333 And yes yes yes to what you're saying. There is a writing quotation from Terry Brooks that I really love: “If you do not hear music in your words, you have put too much thought into your writing and not enough heart."

      I'm so glad you enjoyed! (Also, not trying to rebuff/rebut/hate on your colour blue example, I LOVE YOU OK.) <3333333

    2. <333

      Thank you on both counts! I'm planning to get back to them tomorrow. :)

      Okay, so that's a really good point! It's absolutely right that we don't just throw a bunch of random ingredients onto the page and call it done! I definitely put thought/meaning/symbolism into a lot of small details on purpose, but some of them are subconscious, as you said. (As for The Handmaid's Tale--ha, that does seem a tad farfetched, unless the author knew exactly how the book would be formatted by the publisher! XD)

      Don't worry, I didn't take your response as a hateful one at all! Friendly debates are the best. ;D I guess I'd really fall somewhere in the middle ground--yes, MUCH of the detail an author writes is intentional, but some connections may be ones the reader makes for themselves without the author having thought of them at all. If that makes sense??

      Oooh, that's another really great quote. Reminds me why I love lyrical writing so much. ^_^

    3. Totally! Though I do remember some interesting crit I read on Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, talking about how MOSTLY in the book rain = bad things and dry = good things, but dry can also = arid, etc, that kinda thing, and then the writer was pointing out discrepancies in the “general rules", and talked about how Hemingway's writing is always “suggestive, not prescriptive." So I think what the critic was getting at was that Hemingway probs didn't sit down and make a list of every time rain/dryness was mentioned in the novel and draw a mind map of exactly whether it was good/bad each time. It was partially subconscious for him / maybe he just went with what “felt right" each time, and patterns established themselves, and he knew what the patterns where (like, of course he's aware of how the motif of rain works in the novel) but he didn't feel the patterns needed to bind him. Sometimes i get overstressed about details, as in the colour green is v important in the TCATT books, but I need to remind myself that it's OK to be “suggestive, not prescriptive", so I don't need to have a direct thematic link every time the colour green is featured!

      Sorry, that was VERY convoluted but yeah XD


Thanks for commenting! :)