Posted by: Alice Fitzpatrick | September 2, 2014

What I Learned About Being a Writer From Lewis Carroll Part 4

The White Knight as Writer

 

         “I see you’re admiring my little box,” the Knight said in a friendly tone. “It’s my own invention — to keep clothes and sandwiches in. You see I carry it upside-down, so that the rain can’t get in.”

         “But the things can get out,” Alice gently remarked. “Do you know the lid’s open?”

         “I didn’t know it,” the Knight said, a shade of vexation passing over his face. “Then all the things must have fallen out! And the box is no use without them.” He unfastened it as he spoke, and was just going to throw it into the bushes, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he hung it carefully on a tree. “Can you guess why I did that?” he said to Alice.

         Alice shook her head.

         “In hopes some bees may make a nest in it — then I should get the honey.”

 

1.1

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the White Knight.  He can come off as a silly, sometimes pathetic character, always tumbling off his horse and doing ridiculous things like placing anklets around the horse’s ankles to protect him from sharks as he travels through the forest.

But in spite of everything, he perseveres. He battles the Red Knight to protect Alice, he never hesitates to get back on his horse, no matter how many times he falls off, and he invents an ingenious use for the sandwich box. Remember that it’s the White Knight who accompanies Alice on the final leg of her journey so she can finally become a queen.

For me, the White Knight has all the characteristics of a successful writer. Just as the knight keeps climbing back onto his horse, we keep going no matter how many times we lose our way in a story or novel. The determination to write overcomes the fear of failure.

Like the knight who turns his box into a bee hive, we take bits of our writing and rework them to serve new purposes. Background information, whole scenes, and even entire characters that disrupt the flow or simply don’t belong will be cut, put aside to use later, or worked into entirely new forms.

More than 20 years ago, I wrote a story called “Maidenhair”. The narrator is fourteen-year-old Kate who is spending the summer at her grandmother’s seaside home. Upon learning that her Aunt Emma mysteriously drowned long before Kate was born, she takes it upon herself to discover the circumstances of her death.

At approximately 10,000 words, it was too long for a short story and too short for a novella, but the plot and characters stayed with me, refusing to be written off as a failed piece of writing.

When I decided to use it as the basis for the first book in my Kate Galway mystery series, l aged Kate by 40 years and changed the narration to third person subjective. In this way I could show the events of the plot through many characters’ points of view. I kept the seaside setting, the grandmother, Emma’s mysterious drowning, and the attractive artist for whom the young Kate feels an attraction.

Like the knight, we writers grow protective of our characters as we accompany them on their journeys. They won’t all become kings and queens, but as their creators it is our responsibility and our joy to ensure they become the best possible versions of themselves.

This is the final instalment of this blog series.  I  encourage you to revisit these wonderful books and find your own inspiration in them.  For now, I’ll let the White Knight have the last word.

            “The great art of riding,” the Knight suddenly began in a loud voice, waving his right arm as he spoke, “is to keep —” Here the sentence ended as suddenly as it had begun, as the Knight fell heavily on the top of his head exactly in the path where Alice was walking. She was quite frightened this time, and said in an anxious tone, as she picked him up, “I hope no bones are broken?”

            “None to speak of,” the Knight said, as if he didn’t mind breaking two or three of them. “The great art of riding, as I was saying, is — to keep your balance properly. Like this, you know —”

            He let go the bridle, and stretched out both his arms to show Alice what he meant, and this time he fell flat on his back, right under the horse’s feet.

            “Plenty of practice!” he went on repeating, all the time that Alice was getting him on his feet again. “Plenty of practice!”

 

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Responses

  1. Your posts in this series are delightful to read and marvelous to take to heart! Soon I’ll check out your other posts, and your books, for you promise good reading ahead. Thank you,
    Chris

  2. Chris, your compliments are gratefully received. While I would love to share my books with you, I’m afraid that they are currently looking for a home with a publisher. So until I am either offered a publishing contract or work up the nerve to jump into the self-publishing pond, they will be safely tucked away on my computer, an external hard drive, and 4 USB flash drives. Obviously I subscribe to the theory that you can never have too many backups!


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