Peter Carey, when asked how he writes, says he just writes and rewrites, discovering new threads as he goes along; when something new appears, it can change everything else in the book, so he begins again, writes and rewrites, and then, perhaps, discovers a new thread. And so on.
He doesn't so much write stories, as carve them out. And it’s words he likes, words and sentences, not the storytelling of 'and then and then and then...'. He works on a microscopic level. He lets the story take care of itself. I approve of that.
I've read a few of his books, I liked 'Oscar and Lucinda', and loved 'The True History of the Kelly Gang'. They had an organic, uncontrived feel, and were forever growing. His characters feel the same.
A few years ago I picked up James Wood's book 'The Broken Estate' in a tiny second hand book shop. I didn't know anything about Wood at the time. It looked a serious book, with essays on Virginia Woolf, Austen and Martin Amis. A serious, cheap book. I couldn't resist it.
I like Wood when he goes on about 'rounded characters'. I'll skip what he says and just ask you to think of someone you know well. What is it about them that you know? When you think of them are they any more or less real than a character in a good novel? I think we caricature even the people we know intimately: I'm certain we remember faces by a very few details - a big chin, a small nose, a slightly raised eyebrow. Couldn't our 'deeper knowledge' of people be the same, and more superficial than we might suppose?
And what about ourselves? What do I know about the 'real me'? I wonder sometimes when I hear people saying things like 'I want to discover my true self'; because I don't think there is a true self. I'm not even sure there's a self, at least nothing static, unchanging, like a portrait. So, when it comes to creating characters, instead of piling on detail after detail, a few brushstrokes should do it.
Which reminds me why I have trouble reading Henry James. He does tend to describe faces in so much detail his characters seem grotesque. When someone has an 'elongated top lip' or 'an aquiline nose like a ridge waving down' I begin to see something resembling a tortoise. And then before I can do anything about it the tortoise is chewing a piece of soggy old lettuce - even though James doesn't mention the lettuce - and I can't read any more. If Peter Carey was writing such a book, I’m sure he’d have started again, and written the adventures of that tortoise. As he hasn’t, I will.
I’ll create a tortoise character with a few brushstrokes, and when this character is up and running (well, you know what I mean) - let him open a door, or eat his lettuce, or take forever to go from one room to another; and watch him - he does it his own way. And in the middle of this, he'll look up and he'll say something; he might tell you he's looking for his spectacles, or his purpose in life, or that he’s growing a moustache, and I'll have the beginning of a whole new thread, a new story, a new series.