Monday 1 February 2016

Character study

I am immersed in what I hope will be the final edit of my second novel. At this point in the process, I am trying to look at the 'arc' of the story, while also teasing out some of the underlying themes. It's structural work, quite different from the nitty-gritty detail which has occupied me up until now. The question I keep pondering is what my central character - a young wife stuck in a dysfunctional marriage - has learnt about herself over the course of the novel.

Lily James as the charming Natasha Rostova
Credit: BBC / Mitch Jenkins
Last night, watching the latest instalment of the BBC's excellent War and Peace series, I witnessed the sad decline of the charismatic Natasha, as she struggles to reconcile her sexuality - her lapse in judgement regarding Anatole - with a greater sense of purpose. Within the confines of a novel, characters are usually obliged to travel in some metaphorical sense, during which journey they undergo a kind of moral or spiritual transformation. Tolstoy's War and Peace is no exception.

Which got me thinking... If I were a character in a novel, what would I have to show for myself? What have I learnt during the course of my own 'journey' through life? I haven't experienced any transformative dramas - thank goodness - but inevitably as I get older, I have become more focused on how to live a content and meaningful life.

So if I were to distill what I have figured out thus far, it would be to:
  • Live honestly without hiding behind any white lies 
  • Prioritise what is important and avoid getting sidetracked
  • Care less about what people think... be brave
  • Apologise when I get it wrong
  • Use humour to ease my way through difficult situations
  • Get more sleep!

Unlike a novel, however, life is both untidy and ongoing, which means there is always more to learn and plenty more opportunities to mess up. And, as long as I care about getting it right, there will always be a certain amount of pressure or stress involved. If I could work out how to eliminate that stress without losing a sense of commitment, I would look forward to a more peaceful existence! But perhaps life is all the more absorbing for these perpetual tensions and difficulties. Certainly, without them, there wouldn't be many novels left to write.

Feel free to share any of your own life lessons... I'd love to hear them!

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