The first fifty thousand words of my novels are like a protracted first date with my characters. It takes that long for me to learn enough about them to decide whether or not we'll go any further together on the journey of their make-believe lives.
As a writer you get to play God, but it isn't as powerful as you think. You can only boss the fictional universe around so much before it starts bossing back and messing things up. Characters start developing their own will after awhile. Only writers will understand what I mean by that. Once my characters start doing what they'll do on the page, I know I have a decision to make.
Do we go on? Or do I end it here and take up another project with a story that works better?
I'm at the 50K mark with my latest literary thriller, The Healing Room. It's about a pair of childhood friends, a young woman who has survived a kidnapping by a sexual sadist and a young man who has survived a tour of duty in Iraq. Together they work to rebuild their lives despite crippling post-traumatic stress.
At first I thought The Healing Room had a paranormal, magical realism element to it, but no. My female character says that what happened to her was very real, that it happens to mostly women and children every day, and that I'm not to paint that turd pink with anything but the cold hard facts. My male character never believed in magic anyway, so he's impervious.
I got out of that shit alive, the woman says. Don't make that any more or less than it is.
There are no short cuts, says the man. Tell the story right or leave us the hell alone.
So I start over from the beginning and rebuild the world of the story to accommodate my characters as they've revealed themselves to me. Or I scrap the whole thing and leave them in their half-lives, toiling away at relationship and healing in that old Victorian on the mountainside, rebuilding the deck and holding Veterans' meetings in the living room.
I'll make my decision soon, trying to be objective about matters such as plot construction and story structure, trying to ignore the tiny but now full-fledged voices in my head, begging to be heard.
Come back, they say. Write us.
|This is not my photo, and I can't find the name of the photographer, but if you look closely you can see my characters peeking out from the top window, waving hello.|