Friday, November 18, 2011

What Drives You as a Writer?

"What motivates you as a writer?" my pastor, Rob McCurley, recently asked me. "Are you fascinated with the characters? Do you like delving into the plot? Playing with the words?" His questions got me thinking.  

Image courtesy of Google images
As a child I enjoyed putting together jigsaw puzzles. On many levels, writing Half-Truths is like assembling one huge puzzle. I visit neighborhoods, bike along streets, and talk to people--all the time thinking about what life in Charlotte, NC was like in 1950. I imagine local readers discovering history hidden under the sidewalks which they walk on.  As Harold Underdown said when I worked with him at an Highlights Writers Workshop, this setting creates the backdrop of my story. It's fun to dream up a story that didn't really take place here, but could have

Here's an example. Two months ago I discovered the location of an African American slave cemetery from the 19th century. No tombstones remain, but it is a short walk from the Barnes & Noble store where my writer's group meets. The cemetery itself will probably not be in my book, but its location contributes to my understanding of local history.

St. Lloyd's Presbyterian Church Cemetery
courtesy of Historic Landmarks Commission

Puzzle pieces come together through my interviews with"experts"--folks who lived in Charlotte during this time period. This city is a lot larger now than it was in 1950, but there are still people who are connected to one another and to this time period. One interviewee's mother served as help in another interviewee's home. Another interviewee's grandfather was the founder of the local Coca Cola company and became the prototype for the grandfather in my story. When I interviewed his grandson I discovered that he used to be a dental patient of my husband's. 

Image courtesy of Google images
A third interviewee was a nurse in Good Samaritan Hospital- a place which will play a key role at the end of my story.  It served the African American community for many years before it was torn down. Now, the ground on which it stood shakes with the vibrations of the Panther's football team--the Bank of America stadium was built on that land. Here is a video about the transition from hospital to stadium: 

The characters in my story are more puzzle pieces.   I enjoy creating their genealogies, back stories, motivations, and relationships with one another.  Two months ago an editor challenged me to write this story from both protagonists' points of view. As I dig into what both a white and black teenage girl experienced at that time period, the bigger picture of my story emerges. 

If I happen to write a sentence which delights me or if I find an image, verb, or noun that sparkles, these are more pieces for the puzzle. Last week I wrote:  Lillie knew Grandma needed her help. She just wished that the help wasn’t her. I didn't plan on playing on the word "help," it just appeared on the screen. 

Finally, I imagine that the border of this puzzle is the over-arching theme of speaking the truth. Both Kate and Lillie, my main characters, will face their own half-truths as well as the deeper deceptions which pervade their families.  
Image courtesy of Google images
Making all those pieces fit together really excites me. Thanks Rob, for asking. 
Image courtesy of Google images


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Oh yes, researching and writing is much like finding puzzle pieces and figuring out how they fit together to make a vivid image.

I am motivated to write by the discovery of heart throbbing history. And I don't mean romance!

Carol Baldwin said...

I love that--"heart throbbing history"! Wish I had felt that as a kid. But I guess it's never too late, right?

Linda A. said...

I enjoyed this one. I wonder what your pastor would say motivates him?

Linda A.

Carol Baldwin said...

Good questions, Linda. I'll ask him tomorrow! (although I suspect I know what he'd say).

Linda Phillips said...

Thanks, Carol, for this insight into a writer's motives. And especially nice to know it was inspired by your pastor's question.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear what your pastor's answer was to your question! :)

Puzzles are fun for me, too, but sometimes I get frustrated. And research makes me happy, but I can get far too caught up in it... then I get frustrated b/c I have so much info and don't know what to do with it!

Carol Baldwin said...

Donna & LInda- I asked him yesterday and he said that what drives him is to glorify God and the salvation of souls.

And yes, Donna-- I feel the same way about research! I am finding that it is a backdrop to my story-- just in the same way (perhaps) that you frame your pictures against a backdrop. Not the subject itself, but the place that shows the story well.

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