Quotation of the Week: Peter Carey, Interviewed by Gabriel Packard

As a fiction writer, I’ve never been especially inspired by characters. I know that that sounds awful. I simply don’t write “character-driven” fiction, and, much to my discontent, I don’t ever find myself “possessed” by a character who simply begs to have his or her story told. When I’m lucky enough to find inspiration for a story, it generally comes from ideas and/or circumstances.

Which is one reason why I was captivated by Gabriel Packard’s interview with Peter Carey in the new (March) issue of The Writer. Here’s some of Carey’s response to Packard’s question, “What is the process of writing a novel like for you?”:

“When I’ve finished a novel, I always feel so empty I think I’ll never have another idea. So when I have an idea, a single idea, I feel blessed….I’ll never ever start with characters. They are there to be discovered. Indeed the greatest pleasure, at the end of the novel, is to have made characters who are multidimensional and complicated.”

Ah, there’s the rub. You still need to come up with characters who are multidimensional and complicated! The ideas alone can’t sustain the fiction!

P.S. Carey’s new novel, Parrot & Olivier in America, sounds fantastic (and I’m not just saying that because I have a doctoral degree in modern French history and once took an entire class on Alexis de Tocqueville!). It goes to the top of my tbr list.

4 thoughts on “Quotation of the Week: Peter Carey, Interviewed by Gabriel Packard

  1. Theresa Milstein says:

    I'm always character driven, though for one manuscript, the first line popped in my head and I had to decide what to do with it. The characters quickly followed.

  2. Otter7 says:

    I'll often start with place, and imagine the people who live and work there. Then I start exploring characters and as I discover what kind of person they are, a circumstance or conflict may suggest itself. Not all circumstances are worth writing about, but these situations often lead to new territory
    that reveals a possible story.
    To me, place is important because a story about a character who accidentally shoots someone is going to be very different if it takes place in Montana as opposed to New York City.

  3. LCS249 says:

    One of the most interesting and motivating things I learned was "allow the characters to help in their own writing."

    This can mean stepping into their shoes, and most fascinating is to change sex. Take something you've written and rewrite from the opposite sex's point of view. Very difficult.

    Anyway, I don't start with characters; I start with a story idea, or a single line, as Theresa said. But then things need to happen other than the main character's "thoughts."

  4. Erika D. says:

    Always interesting to hear about other people's processes.

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