Writers of fiction need to be a bit schizophrenic; they live partially in this world and partially in the world that doesn’t exist except as printed words. It’s the characters that are to blame. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m writing, if I know my character—and for clarity’s sake, let’s stick to just a single character—when that character is placed in a certain situation, it’s easy to write, because I know what that character would do. I can even anticipate when that character is going to do the opposite of what would it would normally do.
As a writer I unconsciously develop the character’s back story. In the story I’m working on now, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what the protagonist’s life has been like up till now. I may not have thought through details, but since I have the overview, the events that led to a particular trait reveal themselves fairly easily when I need them.
I wrote one column for nearly twenty years, and I knew one character intimately. On the other hand, these stories included a narrator—think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The difference was that I never really knew who this narrator was. Was it me? Was the narrator male? Female? Caucasian? Ethnic? To this day, almost 33 years after I first began to write that story, I can’t tell you.
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it encouraged everyone to identify with the narrator. It might have been that as a character, the narrator was merely a mechanism—like the plucky comic relief character in a movie. The narrator might have been the human version of Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffin. Hitchcock explained that a McGuffin was something like the microfilm that all the characters tried to get; what is on the microfilm is unimportant.
For that matter, the narrator back then might even have been named McGuffin. Who knows?