Here I sit just after 1 a.m. on Monday morning. I am amazed at my characters and their lives. The struggles they share with me and the tender moments they allow me to write for them. I've been stressing for weeks about what Grace (my heroine) ends up getting Ethan (my hero) for Christmas. Saturday, Nancy (best friend) reminded me to back off and let the characters tell me what to write.
In remembering to do that, I have come so far in the last two days with this manuscript. Ethan and Grace are both talking to me again and happily sharing the ins and outs of their relationship and their dealings with the suspects in this attempted murder case. He's unlocking the secrets of his motivation to me and Grace even whispered to me what she ends up buying him for a Christmas present!
Some authors talk about planning and plotting ahead of time. Some talk about giving their characters events, trial and tribulations. I am not one of these authors. I am not creating the story. I am allowing the characters to tell their story through me. I can't plot and plan what I want to happen at any point in the manuscript. When I get selfish and try to do that, my characters walk away from me and I spend fruitless hours or weeks (and, in some cases, months) in writer's block.
To me, the best manuscripts I've written have been about characters that I love, would love to befriend, would want in my corner in a crisis. Yes, I loved all my characters when I was working on telling their stories, but when I can't even remember what they look like a year or two after writing the book, then there's something missing and it always shows in the manuscript. I believe what is missing are the characters' voices.
When Nancy told me to just let the characters tell me what happens I was a little ...annoyed, shall we say, because it's harder than it sounds. But, she was right. (Damn, I hate when that happens!) Thanks, Nancy!
So, I must go back to the basics and remember that the characters tell the story. They control what happens every step of the way. What I want doesn't matter. I am merely the scribe, if you will. The exhilaration I get when things are flowing and sections are being connected and when I finish a manuscript isn't because I've created a wonderful tale. It's because I've successfully retold the tale of my characters, people I could (and often do) talk about like they were my best friends.
I realize some of this may sound like rambling, but hey, it's late! My best way to describe this experience for anyone who doesn't get it is to tell you about an event that happened during a manuscript I wrote somewhere around 2001 (I think). I sat there typing away. I was completely immersed in the story and completely in love with the characters. (Yes, I still remember every detail about them now!) My fingers flew across the keyboard for quite a while. Then I stopped, gasped and shouted, "I can't believe he just said that to her!" Until that point, I thought I knew that hero well. Because I was allowing him to relay the story to me, I learned more about him and truly enjoyed the writing process. I've had many moments like that since and I'm sure I'll have many more.
Just as long as I remember to listen...