Do you ever wonder why an author chooses a certain word or includes a particular detail in his book? Do you ever read a scene and think: Why did the writer take the story’s action in that direction? At Figment, we like to know the story behind the story. Which is why we were thrilled when Chris Howard shared a scene from his debut novel, Rootless, and gave us some insight into his writing process.
Rootless is set in a devastated world without trees. Banyan is a tree builder, barely scraping together a living creating metal forest for rich clients. But when he discovers a mysterious clue that may lead to the last living trees on earth, he risks everything to set off on an amazing and dangerous journey.
This passage takes place after Banyan has discovered a clue to the whereabouts of the last living trees on earth. He’s also learned that his missing father might still be alive. In this scene, Banyan has been captured by someone who is also searching for the last trees. He’s subjected to having his memories scanned by a strange gypsy called the Tripnotyst. The memories are playing out like visions behind Banyan’s eyelids while music channels into his ears. To give the feeling of an altered, dreamlike state, I wanted the passage to be infused with a lyrical but simple prose. I also wanted Banyan’s voice to feel clean here, without much slang, as if the memories are cutting right through to the very essence of who he is.
This scene takes place about a quarter of the way into the book, and I’d decided it was my big opportunity to share with the reader Banyan’s memories of his father. Yet, as I was writing the passage, Banyan started to talk more about the stories his father had told him, and the trees they’d built together, rather than give us details about the man himself.
I think it’s important to listen to your characters—especially the one who’s narrating the whole book! So I went with it. And I let Banyan reveal what he holds most important—his father, yes, but also these fragmented images of nature that represent a lost world Banyan will never see. Without making anything too obvious, I wanted to give the reader the feeling that Banyan and his father are alike—these distorted stories of the past clearly matter so much to both of them, which is why they spend their lives building forests from old metal and scrap.
I also wanted the reader to believe Banyan would risk everything to find his father, for the same reasons he’d risk everything to find the last living trees. Because they both offer him something to believe in. His belief in his father . . . the trees . . . even stories, themselves, are what make Banyan who he is.
In fairly few words, we’ve toured through Banyan’s memories—from him being an infant, bundled to his dad’s back, all the way to the point where his father was taken. It’s my hope that readers will fill in the blanks of those years the two of them spent on the road, tree building together. I think if Banyan’s father feels real to Banyan, he feels real to the reader, and that caring is more important than knowing in this case.
To read more of Rootless, you can check out the first two chapters here.