Once I had decided to write a novel I ran into the first great challenge: format. What point of view should I choose? First person, third person? How many characters? How on earth did I create character? And narration? I had already written the introduction--it had pretty much written itself one afternoon while we were camping at Mount Rainier--but I spent an inordinate amount of time simply thinking about what I wanted to do and where I thought the story should go because I was essentially learning on the job. I didn't consider myself a writer by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, I had written a few short stories and some poetry--I had even had a poem or two published in Seventeen magazine when I was in high school--but it had been literally decades since I had written anything other than lit analysis type papers for grad school, and fiction is an entirely different animal.
As it turned out, I had the solution in the introduction. I would use the premise of editing a medieval manuscript (something I already knew a lot about from my dissertation) and write in first person, from Isabelle's point of view. After all, the big question for me was, what happened in Isabelle's life to make her veer so far off medieval society's prescribed course for a woman? I knew the facts, sketchy as they were, of her life, but surely there was more to the story than that. I got into a pattern of looking at the facts, then thinking about what the characters would have done or said either to create that situation or in reaction to it. On my best days, the characters took shape and wandered around my mind, talking and acting as if in a dream or a movie. Many times I would try and work out a scene before bed only to have the characters pop up and run the scene in my head without any conscious thought or effort from me. All I had to do was be their scribe. I scrawled many pages by the light of the moon so as not to awaken Patient Husband.
The next stumbling block occurred about forty pages in, when I had a major scene occur within the context of a joust. Luckily for me, I knew just what I needed to do. I picked up my library card.