Book readings are great places to learn about craft and the writing process from accomplished writers. Recently, I braved the heat and high-tailed it into Manhattan to hear a best-selling author named Alison Weir speak at a bookstore. A writer of both historical fiction and nonfiction, Weir has written a series of books on British royalty. Her latest book, Captive Queen, is about Eleanor of Aquitane, a feisty royal who had a tumultuous marriage to Henry II and bore him 13 children; her favorite son grew up to become Richard the Lion Hearted.
A Brit herself, Weir has been enamored with the royals for more than 40 years; ever since she was a teenager, she’s read about them and researched their lives. In the course of all this passionate involvement, she’s amassed a large amount of material in her personal library and gotten to know her characters so well that she’s made the leap from nonfiction into fiction. She actual wrote a history book about Eleanor of Aquitane years before she attempted to convey her spirit and times in the pages of her novel, Captive Queen.
Weir observed that she has become so intimate with her characters through her years of study and immersion in their lives that she knows intuitively what they would and would not do – and how they would react in critical situations. This knowledge allowed her to fill in the gaps about Eleanor’s life, for instance, through a novelistic treatment in ways that she couldn’t in her nonfiction book – all while assuring her readers that everything she wrote in her novel was well researched and grounded in fact.
Passion creates page-turners! This idea of immersing yourself in your characters so totally that you know them intimately enough to know what they would say and how they will react in different circumstances is fascinating, isn’t it? It’s also a wonderful goal for us as writers: to live with our characters so deeply and intimately that we know them as well — or perhaps even better! — than we know ourselves. Has this ever happened to you?