Tuesday, January 21

Great Inspiration – By Janie DeVos



     I'm frequently asked how I develop characters or come up with scenes for my novels, and I commonly reply that they often just pop into my head.  And that’s true.  I can clearly see it in my mind’s eye.  But it’s more than that: I have to feel what a character is feeling, otherwise, how can I expect my readers to feel it?  If I can’t truly experience my characters’ emotions, then there won’t be much dimension to them, in other words, they’ll fall flat, thus, the story will fall flat, too.  I have to care about my characters if I expect my readers to, and I have to care about them in order to create a story that makes a reader want to turn the page to find out what happens next. 

Just as importantly as feeling a character’s emotions, it’s a must that I have a clear understanding of what my characters look like, and not simply in the color of their hair and eyes, but in their particular mannerisms and habits, too.  For instance, does only side of my character’s mouth turn up in a smile?  Or, does he walk with his shoulders hunched, never looking someone in the eye, but studying the ground instead?  But seeing them and feeling them, is not enough.  I must be able to hear my characters’ voices, as well; their particular accents, inflections and cadences. 

At times, a real person has been the muse for one of my main characters, such as my paternal grandmother, Kathryn, in my book THE ART OF BREATHING.  Even though my fictitious Kathryn had some of the same physical traits as my grandmother, my imagined Kathryn took on a life — and a look — of her own.  The same held true with my book, THE RIVER TO GLORY LAND.   My muse for my character, Lily, was my maternal grandmother, Nell (pictured).  Though she was the inspiration for that feisty, flapper girl living in Miami, in the 1920’s, all else about Lily grew out of my living with her and getting to know her more and more.  Then, it was as if that character had created her own identity and took on a life of her own.  

Sometimes, a place will inspire the creation of a character, or a situation I put them in.  One day, as I was driving around with a friend enjoying the unparalleled beauty of an autumn day in the mountains, we came across a tiny little cemetery set back from the road.   Pulling over, we quietly walked through it, noting the dates on the headstones and commenting on how young so many of them were.  What also struck us was how many of them had died within days of each other in the early spring of 1882.  It was obvious that some illness, quite possibly influenza, had taken them all.  I came to a headstone of a woman named Sarah Robinson, who had died on the same day her son had been born.  I knew this because her son was buried right next to her, and had died just five days after he’d been born.  Apparently, Sarah had died giving birth to him and he’d had no chance to survive without her.  As I stood there in that tiny little cemetery on that chilly October afternoon staring at Sarah and her son’s resting places, I was assaulted with a heavy sadness and my character, Anna, in BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES, was born.

Titles of my books have come to fruition as a result of a simple statement made.  Take for instance my book’s title, A CORNER IN GLORY LAND.  I had been straining my brain for a great title for the story I’d been working on but had been coming up empty, that is until I talked to a dear friend’s mother who is one of the kindest and hardest working people I’ve ever met.  A good and God-fearing woman, who had very humble beginnings when she was born in a cabin in the woods not ten minutes from me, Gertrude has never asked for much out of life, and not much has been given to her.  However, that hasn’t stopped her from easily smiling and being more than grateful for the little she does have. 

“Gertrude,” I said to her one morning, “you are such a good woman that when you pass from this life on to the next, God won’t simply give you a mansion, He’ll give you one that comes completely furnished.”

“I don’t need no mansion,” she softly replied.  “I just need a little corner in Glory Land.”

At last, my title was found.

The inspiration for people and places in my stories oftentimes comes about in the most unexpected ways, and, when they do, those are some of the most magical moments for me.  But trying to capture and translate them into characters and situations the reader can actually feel, see and hear is this writer’s greatest challenge…and joy.

To read more about those who inspire me, please visit my website at http://janiedevos.com/many-muses2/









10 comments:

  1. Those are my favorite moments as well--when inspiration dawns and lights the writing on fire. Loved your post and examples, Janie.

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  2. What a great post. We are so blessed with what we are able to mine from those we love and even some we don’t.

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  3. I love the titles of your books. So evocative. Thank you for the lovely post.

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  4. Love this post, Janie! And the characters in your books delight me! It's good to know the inspiration. ;-)

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    1. That's high praise coming from you, Nan. Many thanks.

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  5. great post, Janie - and I agree...those moments of inspiration are gold!

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    1. It's a pure adrenaline rush when we're hit with one, isn't it?

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