Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.
I’ve been grappling with a character in my current work in progress. How to describe this character. Trying to figure out its backstory, its impact on the plot, when it needs to be present—actively or passively. How does this character relate to the other characters—in harmony, in melody, or in cacophony. Perhaps in all those ways, all at the same time.
Literally, Time, because since I had the great privilege of hearing Nobel Laureate Maria Vargas Llosa speak in a series of lectures, I’ve been viewing time through the lens of active character not merely passive setting. Got Llosa, Time is a character that he creates as surely and deliberately as he creates the people that inhabit his books.
Llosa says that writing is “a protest against the insufficiencies of life.” And Time, arguably, is our greatest insufficiency. It marches ever forward, without mercy or thought, with no care for our pleas and bargaining that we may be granted just a little more time. So now I find myself struggling with this character that exerts such control over life, but which I control on the page, if nowhere else. On the page, I can mold it, master it, but I must also create it and it is too easy, especially when writing contemporary fiction, to take Time for granted in the story. Yes, we our stories take place in a time, over time, and even within fictions, we need to adhere to some consistencies. But when the place in our story looks and feels so much like the world we live in, Time often gets relegated to an element, not elevated to character. And these are the questions I ask myself as my story that takes place over distinct historical periods, what does Time feel like to my characters? How does it impact them? Each necessarily must have a unique relationship to Time and how can I make that visceral and known? How can I give Time flesh—not personify it or anthropomorphism it necessarily—but how to let it live and breathe on the page.
Listening to Llosa and reading his words, I am reminded how much I can learn from interacting with these masters of craft. Llosa says, “You cannot teach creativity—how to become a good writer. But you can help a young writer discover within himself what kind of writer he would like to be.” And that’s what I’m realizing as I explore Time, as I write, more consciously, I find myself, more and more, figuring out the writer I want to be.