Writer in Residence

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID: The writing process Part 3 of 9

By Christene A. Browne

As I stated before, the writing process for me is an intuitive one. Some people are afraid or intimidated by the blank page, but I see all kinds of possibilities in it. I am a visual writer, so I have to situate myself in the space where the action of the story is taking place and examine that space from every angle before I start to write. I need to be able to see 360 degrees around me and become fully aware of the environment; how it feels and sometimes even how it smells. I had fun describing olfactory cues from the perspective of two blind twin sisters in my first novel Two Women.

What helps the most with these 360 visualizations are real everyday life references. This goes back to not only the quotidian but also to documentary making. Even though, I starting writing long before I became a filmmaker, I feel that the decades spent making documentary films has made me a better writer. A documentary filmmaker when shooting has to be really in tune with the environment around them in order to capture the moment as is. You have to be able to see and hear things in great detail. A big part of being a good documentary filmmaker is being a good listener. The time spent being plugged in like that, I believe has helped me to recreate reality better. People who have read my novels tell me they feel as if they are there in the room with the characters. This I feel I get from my work in documentaries.

Writers naturally draw from their environments but as a documentarian, I can draw from the environment and daily lives of others who I have followed and listened to repeatedly in the editing room.

When I start writing, the blank page is like a canvas where I begin to visualize my first scene. I start with the first word and see where the process takes me.

Normally my characters develop as I write them. The plot in turn develops as I get to know the characters by writing their words and actions. At times it feels as if I am playing the role of the reader before the story is written.

Even though I just completed a science fiction novel, I am fairly new to writing in that genre. I dabbled with magical realism in my first novel and gave a voice and power to unborn children among other things but that really wasn’t the same. The difference between the two is perception of reality. Science fiction best suited this short story, I thought, because I wanted to examine a future pandemic not too dissimilar from the one we are currently experiencing.  

I love the science fiction genre because more than straight fiction, it allows you to go deeper into imaginary spaces and worlds. As a writer you are doing this by design but there is another level of l exploration in science fiction. This is probably why I enjoy writing in the genre.

My approach to the genre is the same as straight fiction, I want it to feel as real as possible or plausible at least. I want to do what Octavia Butler did with her work; comment on the state of the world while creating captivating stories, characters and environments.  

When I was writing my novel, 2084: The Conversion, I didn’t set out to write something that dealt with race relations in the 21st  century, but as a black woman living in North America in the 21st century, I am forced by mainstream society to confront my otherness. If I lived in society that was more color blind, fair and just, my writing would be very different.

In the same token, my characters are human first and the experiences and emotions they feel are always relatable and universal. My goal is always to show that we are more alike than unlike, as Maya Angelou had so eloquently put.  

As I work through the process of writing the story, I find my characters and their names.   


     A flash of panic washed over her eyes. The illegal conversation was one thing but requesting personal information was another. This was something that had also been frown upon and intended only for occasions when people were in immediate danger. Sharing that same information online, however, was more than common place because most communications and interactions were now done that way.


     “Eva,” she said in the softest voice so that no one else would hear.

     “Sorry, I didn’t get that” he said as he stepped a little closer.

     Eva jumped back in a panic not wanting to breech the ten feet distancing restriction. She looked around before she spoke again to make sure there were no witnesses.

     “Eva,” she repeated a little louder this time.

     The stranger smiled with his eyes again.

     “Okay, nice to meet you,” Eva said as she rushed away. Living so dangerously was not sitting well with her.

      She watched Adam closely as he stood in the express check-out line, while she waited in the one with less bodies.

      As she glared, she tried to memorize his attire and essence so she would be able to recognize him again in public.  She had marveled at how easy it had been to recognize people by just their eyes during the first pandemic. Their clothing, build and gait most times gave away their identity. She was hoping the same would be true for her stranger.

      Outside, she took her normal route though the alley to get home. As soon as she stepped in the door, she hatched a plan on how she might be able to locate her stranger online.

She passed the laser over her bags of groceries and quickly put them away.

      Finding her laptop on the couch where she had left it, she connected to the local network which was now mostly only available in private residences.  She typed in ‘Adam Riverdale neighborhood’ in the search engine. Much to her delight, his was the second face to show up. He was a lot sexier than she had imagined.

     Constant data collection had been eroding everyone’s privacy more and more each year, but regular people were coming around to seeing the benefit of big data. Had there not been the level of intrusion Eva’s search would have been more difficult.

       In just a short few minute she found out his last name, where he lived, what company he worked for and the last take-out meal he had ordered.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Christene Browne, originally from St. Kitts, is a well-respected and internationally acclaimed Toronto independent filmmaker and was the first Black woman to direct a feature film in Canada. In 2011 she was awarded the Visionary award by the Women's International Film & Television Showcase for her ground-breaking documentary series Speaking in Tongues: The History of Language, which features Noam Chomsky. She recently completed a feature documentary on Toronto’s Regent Park, the oldest and largest Canadian housing complex, and is working on an animated documentary on the early life of famed Canadian author Austin Clarke. Her first novel Two Women (2013, Second Story Press) is about two women who share the same soul and deals with the cyclical nature of domestic violence. Her second novel Philomena (Unloved) (2018, Second Story Press) tells the story of a woman who lives a life devoid of love and deals with issues of sexual violence, mental health, and homelessness. She currently teaches at Ryerson University in the RTA School of Media and is developing her first libretto.