Books I Haven’t Read and Character Development

I buy fabric by the yard and use it by the inch; I buy books by the pound and read them by the page. That means my house is full of unread books. “Self,” I said, “either find a way to make time run backwards or start on those books you haven’t read.”

While it is true that I write science fiction it is also true that I’m not actually a scientist – or a magician – so the task of finding a way to make time run backwards seems beyond me at the moment. That’s why I brought The Persian Wars by Herodotus with me on vacation. It helped that our copy happened to be a good size to hold while stuck in those little bitty airplane seats. The good news is I discovered I can actually focus on non-beach reads while on vacation. The better news is I had an epiphany about my unread books, one that will help me as a novelist.

Many of my unread books are old classics – you know, the stuff you were supposed to read in college buy only read part of and begged your roommate to tell you how it ended. There’s also a lot of history and philosophy in my collection. As I was reading The Persian Wars I was struck by how much information Herodotus made up, or someone made up and told him. I had the advantage of two millennia of research when I was reading, but for centuries this was the only work available. It took a lot of time to combat the conclusions drawn and prejudices created by this text. Similarly, my characters may not have all the information they need to understand that the conclusions they draw and the prejudices they cherish may not reflect reality.

Now I am anxious to pick through my bookshelves, not only because of what I could learn but also because of how I could use the experience to make my characters more nuanced, more interesting. Who knows – perhaps I’ll even find a way to make time run backwards hidden in the pages of those unread books.

Luck and wisdom!