You are the Journey
I have always said that the heart of every good story is a character, and every reader remembers one who really spoke to them. Who do you remember the most? The blank-slate youth that we can imprint on and who we experience the world through? The grizzled old-person-of-violence trying to find a way through the world after a life of regret? Or is it that character who truly just captured an ambience or feeling from a time in your life? Whoever imprints themselves into your mind most strongly, when the story is over and the last page has been turned, a novel’s protagonist often feels like they remain with us like the ghost of a dearly missed friend.
There is such power in fiction, and that’s an incredible thing. These characters are all just made up, after all, aren’t they?
I’m not sure sure. I think they’re us
I have never felt quite so strongly about this idea as I have after writing Raine, the protagonist of Daughter of Redwinter. I didn’t really know who she was when I started writing her. I was rewriting an old trunked novel that I’d given up on back in 2012. The character initially had a strong representation to a certain 17 year old that I’d once been – that old trunked version was like seeing my teenage self dumped on a page. But as I started overhauling that text, I could feel Raine coming through the page, demanding that this was her story. I told my partner about it, and she advised me, “Just think about it for a few days before you go through everything you’ve making changes.” So I did just that, and I thought on it for three days, and at the end of that time I was more certain than ever that this was Raine’s story.
Where did she come from? She was born in long conversations during the first Covid-19 lockdown. She was drawn from trauma I’d suffered in the preceding years. She came from an adult reflection on things that had happened in my childhood. She came from observation, and from ideals, and from suffering and from hope, and from a desire to portray someone who felt real to me.
So in one way, Raine is me, just as much as she is not me. I certainly haven’t experienced many of the things that happen to her. But she exists through my interpretation, and I don’t believe anyone else could have written her.
But then, she’s also you, the reader, too.
When we read, those experiences that a writer puts forward are translated through prose into emotional experiences that the reader then filters through their own understanding. Their own experiences and their own perceptions make the character something new, and through this filter, the author’s idea of a character is reborn once again in every reader’s mind. Our understanding of how people act and why they respond the way they do can be stated explicitly by the author, and yet ten different readers will understand it in ways that are meaningful to them.
So in a way we’re all the story, and we’re all the protagonist. We’re all the story’s villain, and we’re all the hero who finds the resolution. Each book we read is an individual experience that speaks to us in a personal, specific way. And that’s the beauty of being able to share these stories, and to go on these journeys together.
Daughter of Redwinter is out now: https://geni.us/DaughterofRedwinter