It worked! Benign neglect, that is. This week, while gardening, I've been mulling over characters in the historical juvenile novel that has been on hold for about 2 and 1/2 years.
I wrote the first draft about 4 years ago. Then I realized that I needed to do a lot of research for the details before I could do the re-write. For about a year I was involved in what a writing teacher (Sands Hall) has called "research rapture". I couldn't get enough information! I spent hours at the public library scanning micro films, in love with old news. I couldn't get enough of historical novels of the time, and maps and nonfictional history. When I returned to the re-write, armed with buckets of trivia, the characters started shifting around.
And then, I got stuck. I got stuck mostly on how the characters were related to each other, and therefore, how they were relating to each other. But, stuck, is stuck, (and some of those writing exercises don't really unstick you). So, instead, I worked on collection of stories (that I recently finished), hoping vaguely the juvenile novel thing would work itself out. Since this is the summer I promised to return to it, it's been at the back of my mind, while I've been catching up on house and garden projects.
Yesterday I realized that everything had fallen into place, thanks to "benign neglect" and to one pivotal character. She's not the main character, but she matters greatly to a lot of the other relationships and events of the story and how they can unfold. Let's call her "Ellie". I was so surprised to learn that Ellie is Nora's older sister and not her cousin, and how much difference that will make.
After my elated "aha" moment, I had a guilty follow-up "aha": I'm glad I didn't work on this for 2 and 1/2 years, only to find out that Ellie was the older sister, which changes so much.
Think of all the rewrites! Good "writing practice", I suppose, but I'm not sure that I would have figured it out, just revising and revising. Even when you revise, it's tempting to "make things work". This was something that had to evolve in its own way at its own pace, away from my tampering. Like friends and family, fictional characters often need their own room to unfold, and it's best to leave them alone and let them work out their lives, while keeping them in your mind and heart.