Quicken: It’s a verb that has several obvious modern meanings (not to mention its use as a financial software trademark). But it also has somewhat more obscure usage: From Merriam-Webster’s (11th edition) — “To come to life, esp. to enter into a phase of active growth and development;” or ” to reach the state of gestation at which fetal motion is felt.” That’s the sense I’m drawing upon here.
In discussing writing and character, I’ve often mentioned that when things are going well with my books, my characters begin to do things that surprise me. They take conversations and events in directions I hadn’t anticipated. They bend the plot to their will, and as a result they actually change my books, sometimes subtly, other times in hugely significant ways. It’s one of those things about writing that people don’t get unless they’ve written themselves. “She’s your character,” people will tell me. “She’s a creation of your imagination. She exists only in your mind. How can you not be in control of everything she does?”
Good points all. She (or he) is my character, and she did come into existence as a product of my imagination. But I would argue with the idea that she exists only in my mind. She exists in a world that I’ve created, which might seem like a fine distinction, but it’s really not. That world isn’t static and it’s so huge that I can’t claim to have control over it. It’s as fluid as . . . well, as fluid as thought, as unpredictable as imagination, as real as love and anger and sadness and joy and every other emotion that has its origin in my mind. And to that end, I’m not certain that any one of us has complete control over his or her mind. We constantly do and say things that we didn’t intend, and then wonder “Where the hell did that come from?” Is it any wonder that our characters should take us by surprise now and then?
I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about character a lot recently. A couple of weeks ago, on consecutive days, I posted about character here and at sfnovelists.com. Those posts focused on the process by which I create characters and begin to fill in their life stories. In other words, they dealt with the way I go about drawing up a blueprint for my characters, giving them backstory, and the kind of depth they’ll need to become those free agents who surprise and delight me as I write.
But there is a gap between creating the characters on paper and having them come to life. That’s the quickening. I’m there right now with my shiny new toy, my new project. I did some of the worldbuilding before and have a good deal of information about my lead character. I’ve even written and sold a short story about him. But he has yet to come to life. I’m in that gap; I sense that I’m very close to that spark that will animate him, and thus breathe life into the world around him. It can’t be forced; like the quickening of a child, it will happen when he is ready. All I can do is make certain he has what he needs to make that leap. I nourish him with backstory and make his surroundings as rich and full as possible. And I wait.