The Novelist: Fiction with Character(s)

novelist fiction characters

Who is the damned tea basket? That’s what I want to know.

I’ve read my share of books by authors I know personally. But there’s a certain added complexity–unexpected–in reading a work of fiction by an author one knows personally. A reader scans every page wondering if a particular piece of the plot is true, or if the event on page 37 really happened, or if the character introduced in Chapter 8 is a real person or based on a real person or an unrecognizable composite of a dozen real persons.

And then, when such an author–one the reader knows personally–employs a wickedly clever technique of basing characters loosely on other real persons the reader may know personally, only crafting them into composites that are one part Person A and one-half part Person B and six and one-half parts pure fiction, the mind begins to spin like a Tilt-a-Whirl in zero-gravity.

Maybe that’s just me.

When readers submitted questions for discussion of The Novelist, several referenced the characters. (And rightly so. Aren’t they, in the end, what makes the plot go round?) I find myself resistant to forming answers to the questions about who or what they represent, who I like or dislike and why (gosh, it might be a friend I end up disliking). Despite all that, I really do dislike Geoffrey and just don’t want to talk about him.

But it occurs to me that there’s another character worth discussing.

The tea basket.

Oh, don’t give me that look. The tea basket is more than a brown-stained mesh cup and you know it. The tea basket is one who is present most strikingly by his or her absence. Its role is critical to telling the story and pointing to other truths. In many ways the tea basket holds things together until the very end. It is a character as sure as the day is long.

If I was a tea basket, where would I hide? Laura amused herself with such imaginations, when looking for lost things. Sometimes it worked. She’d found the Adrienne Rich volume from Geoffrey this way. After he’d been gone for a while and she was searching for a poem quote . . .

So yes, this is the thing I most want to know. Who is the tea basket?


We’re reading The Novelist: a novella, by L.L. Barkat, together over the next couple of weeks. We’d love to hear what you’re thinking about the story, about the characters, even about the process of writing fiction. Perhaps you’d share your thoughts from some of the second set of questions from the reader-crafted discussion guide

  1. Name the various characters in the novelist. Who do you like and why? Dislike and why?
  2. What do each of the characters in the book represent to a potential novelist?
  3. Explore Laura’s description of her relationship with Geoffrey. What do we learn about Laura from it?
  4. How is Laura’s relationship with Geoffrey like (or not like) her relationship to writing?
  5. How is Laura like, or not like, the old woman in the cottage?
  6. Laura worries that if she writes a novel it will be all about her father. Is the story that emerges actually about Laura’s father? How do you know?
  7. Who should read this book and why?

For next week, take a look at the third and final set of questions.

Read last week’s discussion or download the discussion guide.

Don’t have the book yet? Read the first three chapters for free. (But be careful. You’ll be hooked.)

Buy The Novelist: a novella:

Photo by Sandra Heska King. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


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  1. says

    So Lyla, who is the tea basket in your opinion?

    Love the way you see this book!

    I think that the tea basket represents love in its physical and emotional forms.

    For me that is the essence of the book: the search for passion.

  2. says

    I want to see the book animated. Can you imagine the trouble the tea basket could get in then? Or that cup with the frog (did I remember or only imagine that)? Or that go-only-so-far-scene in a hotel room when a lovely shoulder slips from ….

    It could all be so illuminating.

  3. L. L. Barkat says

    I love this question, Lyla. Hadn’t thought of it quite like that. The tea basket as a character.

    Yes, it most certainly is.

    I’ve got my thoughts about who the tea basket might be, but I would love to hear from others :)

    And now I am thinking about how The Conch was this important object in Lord of the Flies. But it wasn’t a character. It was the author’s philosophical statement about Society. Do you know that it was that book that made me forever unable to write fiction? I thought I needed a Conch. Capital C. (Why do we teach that book in every classroom? Terrible model for writers :) )

  4. says

    I didn’t have to read Lord of the Flies. So I imagine I can be happy about that. :)

    I’m not sure “who” I think the tea basket is, if it’s true it is a character or if it rather carries such huge symbolic weight.

    But I was in a quandry. I’d ordered the questions to have this segment of the discussion focus on characters, and I really didn’t want to try my hand at discussing any of them, as I said in the post. So I started searching for another way.

    L.L. and I talked about this sort of thing a while back. About a potential story, she suggested that “I am not sure how much [the person] encounters people along the way. Maybe the landscape and the things are the only other characters. Hard book to write.”

    That came back to me in writing this post, and of course I went to the tea basket. It is not lost on me that this thing that eludes Laura through the entire book is not, ultimately, found, and the tea is prepared without it.

  5. says

    I was going to say the tea basket was the work itself–until I read Lyla’s comment above. Maybe it’s the thing we think we need to write but really don’t. The tea is the real thing, the real writing.

    P.S. I want to say that L.L. including a character named Megan in here was a huge gift. It was like she saw things that I can’t see. It has kept me going through a very dark time.

  6. L. L. Barkat says

    I think the tea basket needed to get lost. Maybe like Geoffrey. And the part of Laura that could not let herself be free.

    Now, whether or not she lost it on purpose is another good question :) Maybe so.

    Megan, that makes this book have a life. Nothing could please me more than to know it is more than a story on a page.

  7. says

    I am sorry that life has intervened and made it difficult for me to join this discussion thus far. But today’s little piece caught my eye and made me think a bit. Sometimes we need our tea neatly collected in a basket. And sometimes we just need our tea. Period. And right now, please.

    Like Lyla, I began to go a little crazy trying to tie characters to IRL people I’ve met or heard about. Geoffrey completely eluded me in that search! I like Claire’s synopsis very much indeed. Life as a search for passion, with detours of various kinds here and there. I hope Laura finds her way.

  8. says

    Sometimes losing something is the only way to let go of it, leaving hands free for what was really needed in the first place. Lyla I never thought of the basket as a character… I never really have given much thought to “things” as characters… ever, (unless it’s a children’s book in which all things and animals and people can talk and feel and breath) but now I won’t be able to help myself. So, thank you for that!

  9. says

    I LOVE the ongoing search for the basket, that she keeps coming back to it.

    She’s at a loss for what to write, keeps sifting through wisdom from other writers, letting her thoughts flow in response to them, but, not completely satisfied, she comes back again and again to her search for the proper tool.


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