Architecture of a Novel

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Telling a story is like designing and building a house. The house has different rooms, different finished surfaces, rooms and spaces with different purposes, all organized into a working whole. The idea of the design usually begins with where it will be built so that it can take advantage of light, view, the lay of the land. So it is with my novel, formed around a location I knew as a young man.

Places sometimes become indelibly imprinted on our mind, remembered for any number of reasons. No matter where life’s path leads us, memories of those locations remain as sweet reminders of what we once experienced. I chose to leave the north coast and live elsewhere, but I carry deep a love for the region and its unique character.

Choosing Big Lagoon as a location for my story was made many years ago and by having been away for long many years I felt free to take some liberties with my descriptions. Like the architect who moves some earth around to place a foundation or cuts foliage to open up a view, I carved some new features into the landscape to make my tale take the form I had designed. I love the freedom fiction offers in creating settings, events, and people.

Once I had created the landscape to suit my intentions, the enjoyment of creating the characters who would populate the story began. Building the characteristics of a person is where I had the freedom to draw from the habits, speech patterns, behaviors, and appearances of people I know and have known. As a writer, I have the freedom to choose the physical characteristics, make them as perfect or imperfect as I wish, but always working to make them believable, perhaps the greatest challenge. If the person in the story is not someone the reader can relate to, then the reader is less apt to find themselves living the story with the character.

Naming the people is part of building the personality profile for each character. I named the people in the story after men and women I have known, worked with, gone to school with, or were a part of my family. I used my middle name and a neighbor’s name for one character, my grandmother and my aunt’s names for another. Like the geography of the location of the story, I also manipulated and altered the characteristics of the people in the story from the true people on whom they are based.

Like the architect who first studies the land in order to visualize the finished construction of a building, the writer draws inspiration from the location chosen for the story, then visualizes and imagines the events to be played out and the characters who will be the story. The writer, like the architect who manipulates the design to suit the conditions, must always remember to follow where the direction the characters lead. After all their story is the one being told.

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