Monday, November 8, 2010

Characters Caught in the Fibers

“Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes—characters even—caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”
—Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

I know the feeling. As a writer and a reader. As both, I’ve enabled myself to become enraptured by story, allowing the plot and characters to wind around me, to become part of who I am.

And then it ends. I write (and edit) the last word.

I turn the book over, satiated, pleasantly reflecting on the characters. I wonder about Swede and Reuben (Peace Like a River). About Minny (The Help). Whatever happened to Holden (The Catcher in the Rye)?

Of course my own characters stay with me as well. They are part of me now. Permanently caught in the fibers of my being. Like tendons, ligaments—blood and bone.

The question I’m naturally led to is how do you transition? Do you have a routine you partake in when you finish one book, before you become engulfed in another? Do you attend a book club? Discuss the book and its characters with a best friend? Do you journal about the book or wait a specific amount of time between books?

Or are you content with how books bleed into you? Is establishing a transition unnecessary because you’ve discovered good books burrow inside you no matter what you do?

*photos by flickr


  1. When I read, I think the better the book is, the more difficult the transition. As a writer, I just finished edits on book one, and I took a one week break before jumping into book two. Not to mention it took a week to catch up on housework and laundry :)

  2. Well, Wendy, I've never thought about this. I hate when a splendid book ends--it's like a vacation ending, or a visit from a dear friend coming to a close.

    I mull the book and its implications over for a few days before starting a new one. If it's spectacular, I discuss it with anyone who will listen.

    BTW, I keep meaning to tell you: I printed out your post on Commuincation, and keep it with my Bible to refer to. It's helped me a lot. Just because I'm gregarious doesn't mean I know how to play the communication game well. Thanks for helping me!

  3. I enjoy processing the book--discussing it with friends and family. I'm always a tad sad when I get to the last chapter of a riveting book.

  4. well, I admit, if I read a really great book with a great ending, I need to let it and the characters linger in my mind a while before I can pick up another book so soon.

  5. When I read a great book, it usually stays with me while I'm reading the next book unless the new book totally sweeps me away. I don't think I've found a good transition yet.

    As far as writing, once I finish a story, I either read a book or two before starting the new one to relax my mind, or I completely envelope myself in the new one (with music, pictures, notes, etc. for the story) so there's no hope of thinking of anything else :)

  6. If it's a book that I've particularly enjoyed, I'll probably download the next book from that author if it's already released. I usually read, write, read write. For example, yesterday I spent most of the day reading, today I am writing. I finished The House At Riverton yesterday. I may start a new book later tonight, when my writing time is over, but usually I need to give my brain a little rest. Watching LOST has come in handy for that!!

  7. When I finish a good read, I savor the satisfied feeling for a day, but then I'm ready to start the next book on my TBR mountain. The transitions are far more difficult when it comes to writing, though.

  8. This is a timely post. I'm having a hard time transitioning from one project to another. I keep slipping back to my completed one.

  9. I have to tell you that it takes a while for my last WIP to dissipate enough for me to feel like I'm not cheating on my characters. I guess that's a sign that I really love my old WIP's. *sigh* I do love to revisit them once in a while. ;)

  10. This is a great post. I haven't had to write the final "The End" yet, so for me revision is still alive and well. Not sure how I'll feel once it's done.

  11. Sometimes I just have to sit in silence. That's when I know that it was a great book.

  12. That's a great question. Lately, I've had to read so many books that I don't have time to transition. Just four days ago I was totally engulfed in a true story and talking about it constantly and thinking I'd never get over it, and now I'm 300 pages into another one and my focus has shifted.

    I like to let them sit, when I can. To think about them and talk about them with people I know love books like me.

    Sometimes, it almost feels like a mourning period saying goodbye to characters. I guess that's why people love series so much!

  13. Julie, Housework, what's that? I agree, the better the book the harder the transition.

    Jeanette, I am honored--honored that you'd print anything out that I've written! Thanks for sharing this. And it is like a friend leaving.

    R&M, I notice I start to read slower to savor it. My mom and I talk books all the time. We swap tons too.

    Jennifer, I hear you. Thankfully I had two good ones waiting to move on to.

    Cindy, I love how you select music. I'd forgotten that. I think I'm going to do that for my WIP and the next one I'm planning.

    Cathy, I miss LOST! You bring up a good point, I'll often research the author online if I've really enjoyed the book.

    Keli, The more authors I get to know, the greater that mountain seems. Hey, I knew that word got stuck in my head from somewhere. Yes, you put savor there. ;)

    Susan, It is harder for me to transition my writing projects than what I read. My characters seriously linger big time.

    T.Anne, I know what you mean about cheating. You feel guilty for spending so much time with the new ones. I so get this.

    Tara, Do you feel it when you read though? I know I do.

    Kristen, Silence, what's that? I miss it. I used to know that word. Cradle it. Sit with it for a long time. I don't remember it anymore. I blame the kids. ;)

    Heidi, I don't really take time to transition. I think my way is talking it over with my mom. She's my book club. And yes, I know what you mean about the mourning. Makes perfect sense why someone jumps into the second and third books.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts today. We saw our first snow of the season here today. Not much, but it counts. I'm 1/3 done with the rough of my WIP. My girls keep growing. I keep growing. Such is life.

    Listened to worship music while ironing tonight and it set everything back in a fine place.

    Hope you dream of fine places.
    ~ Wendy

  14. I rarely pick up a new book immediately - unless it is a sequel. I love continuing with the characters that way. When writing, I have been known to work on two different storylines before and have caught myself putting the wrong character in the book. I really shouldn't work on more than one at a time.

  15. You are so good with words. I like this question: "Or are you content with how books bleed into you?" Memorable way of saying that book pierced the armor to our souls.

  16. As for books, it is difficult. But, I tend to just plunge into the next book. I'm reading for our school library previewing books before they hit the shelves, so the faster I transition the faster the kids can read the books. =)
    As for writing, I'm still in process of the first book and think that I'm gonna need time to transition away from my MC.
    Great post, as usual!

  17. Hi Wendy -

    Wow! I love how you phrased that question.

    When I've finished reading a great book, I'll often savor it for several days or even weeks. I usually pass it along to my mother and her friend. We'll often discuss the story.

    Transitioning from one project to another is not always easy. I take a break in between, breathing in life so I can once again pour it into my stories. I'll also write short devotionals or articles and submit them.

    Susan :)

  18. The good books stay with me forever. My own books tend to pop in and say "hi" at strange times. Like the other day the characters from my third book just started talking. I miss them!

  19. Wendy,

    I find that I need a few weeks before I can start another book. One reason is because when I DO get enraptured in a book, I tend to ignore everything (and everyone) around me! lol So, there's that factor...but also, I like to sit and process one story before I dive into another one. Weird, I think...

  20. I woke up the other night, in the middle of the night, in agony over the heartbreak of a character. Part of me was, "Well, sheesh! I need sleep, not this." The other part of me was, "Oh, yeah, that's a great character. I need to explore that character further."

  21. I'm no stranger to getting engrossed in the lives of the characters of a book. I usually have to take a brief reprieve between fictional novels and switch to non-fiction to give myself a type of closure. Good post!

    So good to see you over @ Life Lessons! I share a similar prayer as yours. Have a blessed week! :)

  22. When I finished reading War and Peace with my husband, it had been so long that I was in the book, in the characters' lives that I felt sad at the end. These characters were like friends by then, and I knew I would miss them.

    If I really like a book, I hate for it to end.

  23. I really like how you've framed this. Don't think I have ever heard it explained this way, but I can relate to that lingering feeling when a good book ends. Transition is hard, even if it's not reality.

    My 9-year-old son is going back and re-reading some of his favorite books. I love that.

  24. I do hate to see a good book end. I'm never ready to say goodbye to the characters who have invaded my thoughts, and yes, even my heart. I think because of that, I find myself drawn to series- that way I can dive right into the next one.
    When that doesn't happen, I need to pick up the new book and plow through the first few chapters without stopping to get the new story in my head.
    Great insight!

  25. I reflect and think about how grateful I am for gifted writers. I ponder and wonder about the characters, debating whether I could write something as engaging. I consider the character's traits and place them into a mental bank for my future writings.

  26. This is a great question. I do need some time between books -- maybe not a lot, but at least a day or two. That time frame can lengthen a bit if I found the book to be especially powerful. I can't just dive right into the next book when I'm still thinking about, considering, and feeling affected by the last one. Usually a day or two of breathing room is all I need until I can pick up the next novel. In that time, I can often read short stories or nonfiction, etc. just fine.


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