This past Sunday I woke up with a fire in me…a fire that would only be quenched by taking a very long walk through the city that I love.
My motivation? Talk to my characters…or rather, allow my characters to talk to me. I’m finishing up my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel and I woke up knowing that my main character, Finn Barker, wanted to somehow use Kensington Market as a metaphor.
I didn’t fully understand/comprehend where Finn was going to with his idea, but I was willing to give him some rope. We don’t always know our characters’ motivations, but we should always allow them to have them. We should always listen to their musings.
My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to get us to Kensington Market, shut my mouth and stand amid the chaos and beauty and splendour there and listen. Listen to the music of the market. Listen to the light, and the heartbeat, and the motion. And, most importantly, listen to Finn. It was his idea. I was merely the conduit that would deliver him to the setting of the scene he was envisioning.
So I jumped out of bed, got myself ready, and drove downtown. As an afterthought, before I set out on foot for the Market from the parking garage at Nathan Phillips Square, I set up a new playlist on Spotify. In it, I had such performers as Charlie Pride, Anne Murray, John Denver, and, Neil Diamond. No, these are not performers I myself listen to. But I knew they played in the background of Finn Barker’s childhood…and I knew intrinsically that he was taking me back in time with this metaphor he was struggling to create. Sometimes writing is the ability to hone a sixth-sense to speak to people who exist only in your head and know what they need/want before they do. The playlist was setting the mood to help Finn formulate his idea.
Once I made my pilgrimage to the Market, with ‘the green green grass of home‘, ‘crystal chandelier‘, ‘thank god I’m a country boy‘, and ‘snowbirds‘ blasting through my earbuds, I attempted to get out of Finn’s way and allow him to take over. And boy, did he! Sometimes you just know what’s needed to unlock glimpses into your story. You just know that taking a backseat to the characters is the only way to grab hold of some of the most poignant vivid scenes.
Before leaving the Market, I had a myriad of images and dialogue swirling about in my head. I knew that Finn had wanted to compare the eccentricities of the Market to himself, to somehow explain to his father that the beauty of the Market was that it was an individual and that its individuality was okay. Finn became passionate about the place when he first arrived in Toronto decades before. He wanted to share that passion with a father who shunned anything that stood out as different.
I had an entire scene play out while I walked the Market. I went up and down the main and side streets, doubled back and did it again, stopped in at the lovely Jimmys for a REAL chai tea latte, browsed through the army/navy, squeezed a fruit or two or three. I did all the things! Because I was Finn Barker falling in love with the place he found to be the home nearest to his heart. I was Finn Barker making note of all the things so that he could share them with his father in an attempt to show the man who he, FINN BARKER, really was. It was exquisite. I left myself behind and walked in my story. Glorious.
The takeaway here, I suppose, is that, as writers, we should allow ourselves to be crazy. We have so many tools in our toolbox. We should never discount any of them. One of them happens to be a propensity towards eccentricity. Embrace it! If you wake up one day with a notion that you should immerse yourself in place, in people, in time, in what have you, then you should do so. Creativity arrives in a myriad of wonderful and intriguing ways. Whether it be the spark at the beginning of a story that gnaws at you until you pick it up and run with it, or a hint of the perfect denouement lurking on the horizon…do whatever it takes to embrace it. If the occasion calls for it, TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE…