At the start of a novel, there are thousands of "logistical" decisions that have to be made about your characters. You are, after all, constructing a life -- usually many lives. It's hard to move forward unless you know, for example, what year your character was born and how old they are in the present day of the story. That leads you to have to ask where this person was born, and what year they started high school, and if they went to college, and what they studied. None of these "logistics" have to do with what they want, or what's keeping them from getting it, or what they're going to risk to make it happen -- the big questions -- but they can be daunting all the same. What keeps me from getting completely overwhelmed is trust in the concept of serendipity.
I have found that if I made just one decision -- I always think of this as putting a stake in the ground -- many other decisions will automatically follow, and then, almost without fail, something serendipitous will happen to propel the story forward or cement something in stone. It's one of the most delightful parts of being a writer.
Here's how it works:
Serendipity works in other ways, too. I had to rush out to Borders to pick up a book for my daughter (she's 14, plowing through big romances, can't be without one) and as I sped down an aisle, I spotted Marilyn Robinson's Gilead on sale. I'm a sucker for a sale, and I have wanted to read this book forever. (I took a class from Robinson when she was a visiting writer at Amherst and I was a visiting student. It's one of two writing classes I've ever taken. She scared the pants off me, she was so smart.) So, I bought it. And when I got home, I noticed that on my bedside table there was a book on God (which I bought because I liked the title), a book on heaven (which I bought because I liked the cover), my mother's old copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany (which I pilfered last time I was in Santa Barbara with nothing to read) and Gilead, a book written in the voice of a priest. Four books about religion??? That's not an accident. So I'm starting to think about this in relation to my story, whose working title is, after all, Faith in God and Joshua Bell -- though I don't know why god was ever there in the first place.
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