One of the more surprising interviews I did for this month’s issue was with Diana Gabaldon. I was certain that anyone writing a sprawling, historic, time travel romance was bound to operate with some kind of grand plan. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Diana’s novels appear to her like a recovered memory, accumulating details from the beginning, middle, and end in no particular order.
Every writer does this to some degree, but that Diana writes her books in one draft and does not know exactly where a scene will be placed in the arc of the narrative when it comes to her struck me as particularly trusting of the process. I have written often about the importance of trusting and listening when writing, but take a look at An Echo in the Bone and consider that this 820 page beast (whose size she limits for practical purposes) was composed with no real architecture other than her understanding of story and her willingness to allow that story in at the rate at which it wants to be revealed.
I do not think Diana is some kind of unique genius, however—at least no more than anyone else. Rather, she is a woman completely at peace with the mystery of original stories. To write as Diana writes you must not be afraid of the dark. Her stories emerge out of nothing—a window, someone at the window, the curtain is open, there is snow outside the window—but if she were to race to fill the darkness with bright lights and dancing characters she would never get to see what gifts the shadows have to offer.
I used to be afraid of the dark when I was a boy. The secrecy imposed by night seemed perilously uncertain. Anything could step out of the dark. Yet what was it keeping me awake at night but my own imagination? Here I was, a writer-to-be, afraid because his imagination had come to life. There was my clue for the future. I was not afraid of what might come, but simply that anything could. And so I would spend the rest of my life turning toward shadows for inspiration, eventually propelled by that which I had once so feared.