Written by
Sheila Grinell
January 2018
Written by
Sheila Grinell
January 2018

Whenever I’m on the edge of coming down with a cold and it’s time for yoga, I ask myself, should I go to class and exert myself or should I skip it and lie low?  Having done both at different times, I’ve found that it can go either way—exercise can kick my immune system into higher gear or it can overwhelm it. So many other factors come into play on any given day.


Something similar happens with characters in a novel. One reader at a book club discussion of my novel, Appetite told the group that he had a hard time sympathizing with Paul Adler (a protagonist) because he was an alcoholic. Whoa….an alcoholic? I had not imagined him as one, although he likes his bourbon, especially when pissed off.  In my mind, Paul is a greedy guy who indulges himself across the board. But he’s in control, not in thrall to a substance. My reader, who grew up with alcoholics in his family, saw something different in Paul’s behavior.


The reader is onto something. He knows how to recognize signs of impending alcoholism better than I do. Perhaps Paul will turn to alcohol in the end, after his wife leaves him and he loses control of his research. It would be “in character” for him, although I hadn’t planned it. As a novelist, I try to simulate real life, but there’s only so much detail I can cram into 300 pages. The reader brings his or her own understanding of human nature to the page. I do love supplying the canvas for the reader’s painting!

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