Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Editing Yourself

On a recent two week voyage from Greenland to Ungava Bay, around the northern tip of Labrador and down the Labrador and Newfoundland coast ending up in St. John’s I considered editing.

Faced with 108 fellow passengers I had the opportunity to create myself. What would I choose to tell and what would it reveal about who I’d chosen to be?

With four books and many short stories to my name I should be an old hand at this. After all writers have to know their characters. What does she wear? How does she speak? What obsessions does she have? The list goes on and on. The importance of knowing your character and how she will behave cannot be overemphasized. Without taking the care to make sure your characters behave in ways compatible with their personalities you jeopardize the believability of your story.

Because I have created many characters and enjoy thinking about them and their lives long before I write a word I thought I’d be good at deciding who I’d be and what facts about myself I’d choose to share.

Not so easy.

In the first place, a small voice in your head goes into critical overdrive.

If you say where you’ve chosen to travel will the listener think it’s interesting or not. If you tell people your age will they write you off as a little old lady off on a trip? If you reveal that you’re a writer when Margaret Atwood, Graham Gibson and Kevin Major are on the trip will it seem presumptuous? If you mention that you’re planning to paint for three months and plan to use your photos as reference material will they think you want them to ask for jpegs when the paintings are done? If you wear fancy ear rings and bracelets will they think you aren’t really a traveller but a tourist?

And so it went. Every time I thought of something to add or introduce in a conversation my inner voice questioned why I wanted to say it and asked what impression I was trying to make.

The result. I found the first few days challenging. All that changed one evening when I looked across the dinner table at a man sitting opposite and asked him his surname. Turned out he and his wife had gone to university with me as had another man on the ship. No hiding or creating a new persona. They knew me.

It was a relief.

Editing myself had proved a daunting task, much harder than creating fictional characters. But it might have been fun to present myself as a retired juggler, bank robber or secret romantic interest of some nefarious character. I expect that people on trips do invent exciting lives for themselves knowing they are unlikely to ever see their fellow passengers again.

Next time.

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, will be published by Dundurn in November. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

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