It's All About the Characters
Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER
Have you seen Lost in Austen? It’s a 2008 British four-part series about a modern-day woman in love, not with her boyfriend who proposes in a drunken stupor and offers a beer can tab for an engagement ring, but rather with Pride and Prejudice and its world of courtship, romance, and manners. She finds a mysterious portal in her bathroom through which Elizabeth Bennet travels, and they swap places.
So, basically, this movie is crack for Jane Austen lovers, and you know how much I love Jane Austen.
Every time I see it, I get chills when Amanda Price walks down the hall of the Bennet home and overhears Mrs. Bennet moaning about her nerves and Lydia’s ever-present giggles. And the assembly ball! Oh my god, it’s Darcy!
In Stranger Than Fiction, I cry when I see Will Farrell’s character, Harold Crick, walk into Emma Thompson’s office. That moment of recognition, of “It’s really you,” gets me every time.
About a year or two ago, I was at a stoplight in downtown Naperville, the Chicago suburb where all of the book club members from my Bibliophiles series eventually end up living. A thin woman with straight blonde hair dressed in monochromatic taupe crossed the street in front of my van. “It’s Annie!” I thought, from A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One). I craned my neck for a better look, but she had disappeared among the crowd walking down Washington Street.
It happened again the other day at Trader Joe’s. I grabbed a bag of arugula and turned to put it in my basket, when a woman who looked just like Edwina Hipplewhite appeared. (Edwina is the moderator of the Bibliophiles’ book club.) She was even dressed like how I would imagine and wore the same expression I had envisioned so many times before! I got chills.
Magical and surreal, I couldn’t shake the feeling something of cosmic importance had just occurred, that some sort of fiction-reality continuum had been breached. You see, writers spend so much time with all of their characters, it’s impossible not to fall in love, with some more than others, of course, but even the unpleasant ones have some interesting qualities.
That’s what happened to me when I was writing Whisper. As I created the book club scenes, I began to adore the bibliophiles and felt compelled to write each of their individual stories. Right now, I am doing some “world building,” assembling the neighborhood and family of Thaddeus’ boyhood. I absolutely love this part of the writing process—the research, the history of an area, how everything comes together—it’s so much fun!