Writing in Reality: Vodnik Chapter Twenty

Quite a few people have asked me (after reading Vodnik) about how much of the story is actually true. I know that seems like an odd question to ask if you haven’t read the book. It’s a novel about a watery trickster who steals souls and puts them into teacups. Not exactly something you’ll see in a 60 Minutes episode. But I think people ask about how much is real because the setting is real. Very real. And having had the chance to be in that setting–to actually live in it, so to speak–might add a stronger twist of reality to this fantasy story than perhaps other books might have.

Writing a novel is a really strange experience. It’s such a big undertaking, and there are a lot of details to keep straight over the course of the story. How your characters behave, what action is happening when, where it’s all taking place, what the limitations are–tons. For me, it often helps to take a step back and keep asking myself, “Why am I writing this?” What was the thing about the idea that made it so irresistible in the first place?

This helps me keep the story tight and focused. I have a tendency to ramble (on the blog, in real life, in my writing–you name it.) New ideas come to me, and sometimes I switch focus to them too quickly–to the detriment of the original ideas. In some ways, this is very helpful. I rarely have a lot of trouble coming up with new ideas. In other ways, this can be a real pain, since a completed first draft of one of my books can look sort of like Tarzan swinging from idea to idea, with great ideas left behind in a sea of vines and metaphors that were taken too far. I have to come back afterward and play clean up. Even things out. Take the good ideas I came across and make sure they spread across the whole story. That sort of thing.

A big part of the reason Vodnik got written was that I wanted to write about Slovakia–and in particular Trencin. So when I went back to revise the book, I searched for details I could add in about the city–on every level possible. The way the rain will just pour for a half hour or so, and then shut off. How people treat strangers in the city. The way the cobblestones feel under your feet. All sorts of real life details that were very easy to add, as long as I took the time to think about what it’s really like to be there.

Writing about reality is easier in some ways. There’s a “there”there, if you know what I mean. When you’re writing about fantasy, you have to come up with the whole thing all on your lonesome sometimes. Then again, there’s no one to tell you that you messed something up. Things are the way you described them, and that’s not the case when you’re writing about a city people can actually visit. Still, I like the challenge of each.

This chapter has some of those real life details woven in to the story. Tomas looking around the town for Katka. The rain. The apartment in the castle. All sorts of tidbits that I’ve seen in my visits. One of my goals in writing the book was to write it well enough that people feel like Trencin is a real place–that they see it the way I see it. Judging from some of the responses I’ve gotten back from various people, I succeeded, at least to some extent.

This Christmas, we’re going back to Trencin for the holidays. My son (who’s now read Vodnik) will be able to see it all first hand. I’ll be interested to hear if he has anything to say about the city–if any of his perceptions have changed having read the book. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Anyway–that’s all I have time for today. Thanks for reading!

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