Waiting for the characters to speak

Writing is easy. You just sit down at a keyboard, open a vein, and bleed. The earliest credit given to this quote is to Red Smith, although there have been several adaptations.

I love it when someone tells me they plan to write a book one day. If that’s you, God bless you and good luck. Because this quote, in my opinion nails it, especially if we’re referring to writing fiction. Writing fiction is taking an idea or ideas, meshing them together, world building or creating a setting, then populating it with interesting characters we want to follow from beginning to end. Sort of like a recipe, huh? Combine ingredients, turn on the oven to 350 degrees and bake. Not quite. If you don’t get the story just right, much like a cake, your story can flop.

I’m amazed at authors who can write three or four books a year. Outside of not having a life, they have to have overstimulated muses pounding on their gray matter all the day through.

I write one to two books a year, and am firmly in Mr. Smith’s camp with the “open a vein” scenario. The plot may gel, but if I don’t know the characters, all I have is a garbled mess and an idea in my head pounding to get out. Write me, write me, the story insists.

I will, I holler back. Just let me do a bit more research, when what I’m really saying is I don’t know my characters. They must, MUST start talking. If they don’t, the story will not get written.

I’ve been meshing my ingredients for a few months now. I’ve been reading, plying and annoying experts for at least that time. People say interview your characters. I brainstorm with fellow authors. That is helpful to a point, but even though it helped, it was a bit like starting a car with a faulty alternator. A fellow author can’t tell me my character’s background.  He has to.

And in the past few weeks that’s been happening.  The characters have been opening up–telling me what they’re all about. Believe me, I’m listening. This is the fun part of writing for me. I may be the author, but the characters are the lifeline to the story.

To me, storytelling is ALL about the character. What makes him tick? What is his goal? Then, what evil being can I create with an opposite goal that will prevent my hero from reaching it? We haven’t even talked about a love interest yet. How many stories have we read where the conflict seems forced.

In the book I’m writing now my hero wants the heroine to work with him to solve a cold case. She’s always wanted to know who murdered her childhood friend. Sounds like an ideal match, right? Not quite, because as much as she wants to know, she blames herself for her friend’s death. She’s removed herself from the scenario entirely, relocated and works to help others, in similar, yet a different locale. The hero is asking her to return to her worst nightmare. To put herself in that world she’s worked so hard to escape. She told me that recently. What’s more, the hero whispered an important fact about himself too.

Thank heavens the characters are speaking. I was running out of Bandaids. For my writing friends, is this part of your process, or is this the easy part? What stumps you in writing a book?  For non-writers, who are contemplating writing a book, what keeps you from starting? Happy Friday!

Donnell Ann Bell’s romantic suspense Buried Agendas out now!