“That’s the way it should feel when you’re writing a novel: The charactes are alive, making their own choices, and you’re just following them.” Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman is a beloved novelist and the author of a raft of popular books, including The Dove Keeper and The Rules of Magic. Here, from “Story Magic,” an interview in The Writer (October, 2017), she offers insights and helpful tips:
On creating characters: “Write down everything about them. Then you have to kind of write your way into them. My characters grow as I write them and become more themselves as they reveal their innermost spirit… When that happens, they almost always surprise us. This was certainly true in The Rules of Magic. Moreover, as the writer, I want to be surprised. I want to be drawn in. The reason that I read a novel is the same reason that I write a novel.”
On POV: “I don’t really decide on the narrative point of view – the book comes with a point of view. For instance, I don’t tell myself this is going to be a first-person book or this is going to be third-person narration. I write a little bit in first person or a little bit in third person. kind of play around with it, and then something just clicks and feels right. I think it’s always great to experiment with different points of view.”
On beginning a novel: “I begin by writing various notes, by creating the characters, usually by making lists so that I know everything about them and the material that I’m not going to use. I do a lot of research about place and the physical and natural environment of the setting. And then I make an outline. The outline changes in writing, but it gives me a place to begin. A novel comes into being because you write it. You can do all the planning hings, the outlines, and I believe in all that, but basically a book comes from writing your way into it.”
On plot and theme: “I think plot is really important – it’s the thing that makes you want to turn the page. I don’t believe in theme. I believe in story but not theme. It can be destructive if you begin with a theme because you’re deciding what the story is about before you even write it. Theme applies to reading fiction, not writing it.”
On openings: “Beginnings can change, so you just have to start and take a leap of faith. A lot of times you end up cutting the beginning. You can always go back and rewrite it. That certainly happened in The Rules of Magic. I started out with a lot more going in the beginning, and I ended up cutting half of it. It’s about hooking the reader on the first page. If you don’t draw someone in, they probably won’t read further. In your beginning, you need to start with something major or at least set the tone and the language so that the reader wants to turn the page. I think that’s the most important thing. It has to have intensity. It could be drama, it could be language, it could be many things, but it must have intensity.”
Bravo, Alice! Great advice to ponder and apply as we all write on!