In Two Minds (at least) by Bill Kirton
Somewhere recently, (the fact that I don’t offer you a link to who and where it was is down to my laziness), I heard or read an interview with an actor who talked about needing to have a ‘dual consciousness’. In crude terms, he meant inhabiting the consciousness of the character he was playing but simultaneously being aware (as himself) of the mechanics of what he was doing – the director’s instructions, the audience’s reactions and so on. And I’ve frequently said the same sort of thing about how writers operate. It applied particularly strongly as I was writing the last few pages of my most recent novel (‘recent’ as in 2016. See above: laziness).
Those pages covered the resolution of the relationship between the two lovers in my story. I knew and know them well. They’d already lived through my novel The Figurehead, where they met and their love started to grow, and part of the reason for writing its sequel was that some readers had actually said they wanted to know what happened to them. I had no answer, but realised that I wondered the same thing, so the only way to find out was to revisit them.
That final scene was very difficult to write, and it’s because of the writer’s equivalent of the dual consciousness effect. Back then, I knew what I (the writer) wanted them to decide, what I thought would make sense in the context of their characters and of the two books together. But the moment I began writing their dialogue (i.e. observing and, simultaneously, inhabiting them, listening to what was being said, reacting to it, experiencing what they were thinking and going through, exploring what was possible), I felt their difficulties.
In the society of 1841 when women married, they and what they owned became the possessions of the husband. By law. They were also expected to remain faithful whereas their husbands could have dalliances all over the place. Then there was childbirth and its associated dangers.
I felt through the characters, especially the woman, the suffocating demands of that society and simultaneously, as a writer, the freedoms I wanted them to have in the narrative. I think the resolution was satisfactory, and yet I’m still not sure if, in 1841, it was possible to find a satisfactory alternative to marriage without being ostracised.
But that was all a long time ago (1841 and 2016). For the moment, I can switch off both consciousnesses – at least until the next non-existent beings start nudging my own consciousness aside and making demands. (But even then, my laziness will resist them.)