When I’m in the beginning stages of writing a book, I work really hard to get inside the heads and into the homes of my characters. When I’m doing mundane things like washing dishes, making the bed, or going outside to water my flowers, I use those quiet moments to get to know them. I’ll say to myself, now what would Agatha be doing right now, this very minute?
She lives in a large Victorian house at the end of West Main Street in Park Place. I’ve sketched the floorplan of her home. I’ve walked with her through the library, the living room and up the massive stairway that leads to the four bedrooms she’s going to be letting out to the guests of the Bed and Breakfast she’s just opened. I’ve watched her read books by the light of the lamp beside her bed, and I’ve enjoyed hot tea with her guests while they sit beside the fireplace and chat.
I’ve created a front porch with rockers and painted her porch ceiling blue. I’ve marveled at the turret tower with the circular walls on the left side of the house that reaches toward the clouds, and I’ve looked from the outside in as the upstairs guests gather there in the little circular drawing room to look out upon Main Street as the shoppers pass by during the day and ooh and ahh over the Christmas lights as they’re turned on at dusk.
Agatha’s front porch is surrounded by boxwoods and there’s a walkway leading to the sidewalk, with street lamps on each side. She has lots of shade trees, a separate 2-car garage, and an old carriage house on the right side of the house. You can look down from one of the second-floor bedrooms and see her English Garden and the exquisite statues and water fountain imported from Italy that anchor it. Beyond that, you can see the blueberry orchard where she gathers the berries to make her jams and jellies.
When I go outside in my own backyard, I see the lush green of Spring, but I have no trouble getting into Agatha’s shoes and following her into her own English Garden right smack in the middle of winter. I know that her husband, the avid gardener, died two years ago and the garden is in a state of disrepair. Winter tufts of brown grass and a small mulberry seedling are growing up between the flagstone squares, trying not to disturb the serene setting. The pump on the fountain quit working shortly after Charlie died and the water that’s left in the bowl by a recent rain is colored a murky brown from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. Agatha breathes a heavy sigh as she looks at what has become of Charlie’s garden. She can only do so much, she thinks, still a little angry at him for dying. Then a new thought enters her mind. A gardener, when Spring comes she will hire a gardener! Why had she not thought of that before?
And where does my character go from there? I make it up as I go along, but wait, I just had another thought. Agatha is only sixty years old. She’s not dead yet! As she thinks about the gardener she will hire, she decides he must be easy on the eyes. Be careful, Agatha. Don't go there. We're writing a nice clean book.
See how quickly our imaginations can lead us off track? But the amazing thing is that we can merge our minds with our characters and a book is written. I still don't understand how. And we know we had to be a little bit crazy in the first place to have ever wanted to write a book because, by the end of the story, we've begun to act a whole lot like our character, good or bad!