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The Making of a Novel: Designing Family Systems

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I spent all morning writing a character summary to try to figure out what this one character -- my daughter -- really wants. What was I doing? I kept jumping onto the Internet to research things and look things up, and I gave myself permission to follow the leads. I ended up reading a mathematical analysis of the way violin strings vibrate;, and several logs about classical guitars; and interesting tidbits about college admissions, which I uncovered when I visited the websites of various New York prep schools. All the while, I was forming a picture of a girl who was pushed to succeed and finally decided to push back.

I think I've got my daughter -- I can see her and I like her and she serves the story I want to tell -- but nailing down this one character has thrown another into question. I thought all along that the mother in this family would be a librarian. I was interested in her being in an industry that was in great flux, and I also imagined her to be a know-it-all. But now that I'm trying to see the mother in relation to the daughter, I'm not sure it will work. Would this mother have a daughter like this? I'm not sure ... and so I need to do more reading, and more Internet digging, and more thinking.

The other day, I heard aninterview on NPR with Leonardo DiCaprio, where he was talking about working out the world of the story of Inception. He said that he talked with the director of the movie every day, sometimes all day, for two months straight. I was dumbfounded by this admission. How could there be that much to figure out? I finally saw the movie last night and understood: not only was there a complex sci-fi world with its own physical laws, there was an important relationship in DiCaprio's character's past, with several "dream" layers of complexity. Every nuance of those physical laws, and of that relationship, had to be right in order for the story to hold water. I didn't care for the movie, but I find it admirable that they worked so hard to get that family relationship right.

Now it's my turn -- and my mother is next.


Follow Jennie Nash on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennienash