Observations of an experienced Time Traveler
Stephen King noted in his book, On Writing, that there is a mystical sort of loop that is completed when a reader reads an author’s words, almost like inhabiting the same moment of time created by the story, bringing it fully to life. I’m probably not getting that completely right, but I know that when I read a book, I willingly submerge myself into a completely alternate reality, one that has been imagined by an author.
And that is why I have always especially loved historical fiction, because when done well, it is time traveling at its finest, without the need for complicated time machines or Faustian bargains. For the simple price of admission, I can open the cover of a book and enter a world lost to time as the characters on the page live and breathe and navigate the currents of their world.
In Historical Romance, where the goal is to connect the reader intimately to the emotions of the characters, this reality takes on even richer, more complex dimensions. As a reader, I not only experience, say, life in a medieval castle, but how it feels to move through that space as a person with the same kinds of hopes, dreams and struggles that we all share as human beings. It is dizzying and thrilling, and whenever I stop reading, there is always a brief moment of disorientation as I return from my travels and the details of my humdrum everyday world fall into place around me.
Over the years, I learned to make this transition smoothly as a reader.
As a writer, however, I am finding it a much trickier proposition. My characters simply refuse to abandon me when I stop working on the story for that session and shut my laptop. They haunt my dreams, reveal little surprises about their motivations while I am driving on the freeway, and sometimes become very uncooperative when I try to push the story in a direction that is not true to their natures. Like a statue revealed by the sculptor’s chisel to have resided in a featureless block of stone, the reality that I am compelled to record in my novels appear to exist completely independently of my imagination, even while it relies on the poor tools of that imagination to chip away at the stone and reveal the story onto the page.
In the end, it is a little scarier, but incredibly more exhilarating, to drive the time machine than to simply ride in it.