I sometimes wonder if J.R.R Tolkien was as surprised by the journey of his hobbit as the hobbit was himself. Even though the original novel was not called “An unexpected journey” and this name was only later given to the first film made about the book, I think it still captures the essence of the Hobbit and the character’s creation and journey very nicely.
On the creation of Bilbo Baggins: a quote from Wikipedia:
“In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien recollects that he began work on The Hobbit one day early in the 1930s, when he was marking School Certificate papers. He found a blank page. Suddenly inspired, he wrote the words, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ “
Apparently, the idea of this hobbit totally intrigued Tolkien. Who was the hobbit? Why did it live in a hole? What exactly were hobbits? His own character had come alive and begged some questions to be answered. Tolkien found himself obliged to answer these questions. One of the best selling fantasy franchises of all time was born, and the rest is now history.
I find that the same happens sometimes while I am writing. Now don’t get me wrong, the challenge of writing a novel is a monumental task, and is not something you should just tackle halfheartedly. So in no way is novel writing and character creation just a fun journey that takes you places. Ninety nine percent is just slaving it out in front of a keyboard and screen – but there are those moments when your characters surprise you, and that is lovely.
Some days you dread the day’s writing, having to type your way through a “scene” that was conceptualized months ago already. You know what is going to happen, you know how it is going to end and you know want the outcome should be for your various characters. And then sometimes, on these days, the characters surprise you with an unexpected journey. You start typing, and before you know how it happened, your character is off on a little adventure you had not intended, and what a refreshing change that is!
Some of these days, the gloom of writing simply to get your word count for the day turns into a little adventure for you, the author. You might as well have been reading a book – one where you know the main story, but you have forgotten all the finer details, and are quite surprised by the twists and turns that the story takes.
Most of novel writing happens while you are not writing: In your bed at night before you sleep, in the shower, while commuting. This non-writing part of creation is by far the most fun, the times when your imagination is not limited by a keyboard and the words on a screen, not to mention your typing speed! The rest of the time is spent just to get your thoughts ordered in such a way that you can present it to the world.
And yet, when you finally get to the writing part of it all, who knows what those characters might be up to next? Who knows what tomorrow’s writing will bring?
I think I am just about ready for another adventure :)