Writing Insight April: When it’s Over

This morning just before work, I finished the last book of Sylvia Day’s “Crossfire” Series, One With You. She has a sort of farewell letter to the main characters, Gideon and Eva, at the end of it. Well, it’s really not a farewell to them. It’s subtly telling the reader, hey it’s time to wish these people well and move on. I ain’t writin’ any more of these novels! 🙂  As a reader, you’re thinking if the characters aren’t dead (or lost in some void, or forever somewhere where they can’t get back to the book’s reality), there should still be stories to tell.  You want to know what happens next. ALL THE TIME. Because there’s always a “next.” But as a writer, I kind of relate to Sylvia Day on this.

Readers of serial novels (or any story for that matter), let me let you in on something. There comes a time characters just stop talking to us writers.  They don’t want to tell you any more of their story, they want to just be left alone to live their lives. When I first hear from characters, it’s incessant: I’m dreaming about them at night, I’m hearing their voices in my mind in the day, I’m telling them to shut up while I’m in the shower.  But they keep on yammering and showing you the same things over and over until you get to your computer or get a pen and paper and start writing. It’s delightfully annoying.

Sometimes, they show me the same scenes over and over. Characters are walking up a hill. Characters are sitting and laughing. Characters are fighting. I’m thinking, “what am I supposed to do with this? This is almost useless!” Sometimes they’re giving me one-liners.  Sometimes I just keep seeing their faces in my mind’s eye. They almost never say, hey, Nelson! Write this down because this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to fall down a well, get trapped, get rescued by a fireman, and then live happily ever after with him. Nooo! Instead they give me cryptic hints. Then I start writing, and they tell me, nope, I do this instead. And then I’m left with scraps of good scenes that have no home and pieces of dialogue that never get said for days, weeks, sometimes right up until the 2nd rewrite (that was the case with drafting my first novel).

But as those days and weeks accumulate, I get to know these characters. They start to become like friends. They reveal more of themselves to me, and then I’m able to piece together their stories. And then, I start to hear them less and less. And one day, I don’t hear them at all.

Sound delusional? That’s what being a novelist is all about. But to me, that’s also what makes good characters in a novel. I have to create living beings out of imagination. So if I know these characters like the back of my hand, then they can become real to you, dear readers. But it’s also the reason why it may be hard for you to say farewell to them even when I already have.

(Thank goodness I don’t write speculative fiction. I’d probably think unicorns were talking to me on Middle Earth from their spaceship orbiting Vulcan. ALL THE TIME.)

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