Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Do You Do When Your #Characters Won't Shut Up? #amwriting

Has a character ever invaded your head and refused to move? It happened to me when I finished AVENGERS OF BLOOD, the second Cass Elliot Crime Novel, and it was quite annoying. You know what it's like when you finish a novel. You edit like crazy, obsess over the cover, finally get to the point when you're satisfied, push the 'publish' button, and collapse.

Then you write the next book.

That's what I dug in to do. But one of the characters who appeared about halfway through AVENGERS OF BLOOD wouldn't leave my head. Her name is Maxine Leverman and we learned that she's Cass Elliot's best friend from childhood, that they lost touch during Maxine's marriage years, and that she's come home to Arcadia because she wants Cass to find the man who raped her, and then kill him. That's where we left things at the end of AVENGERS OF BLOOD.

Sounds simple enough, right? I expected that she'd show up in the next Cass Elliot Novel as the hunt for the rapist continued, probably as a subplot since I already had an idea for the next Cass novel.

But Maxine wouldn't shut up. She kept popping up at random times, enticing me into thinking about what could happen next for her. I was working on that third Cass Elliot novel but making little headway and finally decided that to get rid of Maxine, I'd have to write her out of my head.

So I decided to do it.

Trouble was, I didn't have a place in my imaginary Forney County for Maxine. I didn't know how she fit in the world. I was whining about this one day to the gals I work with in real life, and they came up with the idea of a private investigative firm. One even offered a name: Lost and Found (thanks Babby!). It was perfect. There's no way Maxine could be a real police detective like her friend Cass, but she might be able to work as a PI. That was settled; Maxine had a place in the world.

But then I realized I had a bigger problem: Maxine needed a mystery to solve, and I didn't have one for her.

Over time, I've realized that my story lines reflect my outrage over an injustice that I believe hasn't been satisfied. My outrage at the time of the Maxine drama was directed toward the men who cheated on several of my friends. Mid-life crisis, alcohol / drug fueled idiotic decision making, or a savior complex, it didn't matter. They all had inane and mundane reasons for cheating, and they lost women who had financial and community resources. They lost family, friends, their reputations.

One even had to leave town.

Stupid. All of them.

When one of your friends is in this situation, there's little you can do to ease her pain except be there, and help her excavate his electronic devices.

Unless you're me: then you write him into a novel and kill him.

Suddenly, I had a mystery for Maxine: a cheating spouse who's disappeared, a wife who's desperate to find him and stop him hemorrhaging their money, and a newbie PI at Lost and Found Investigations who secretly takes the case.

That's where A CASE OF SOUR GRAPES came from, and as irritated as I was with Maxine for banging around in my head for so long, I'm grateful she did. I absolutely love the book, the characters, and the story. I hope you do, too.

I was serious when I wrote the title of this post: what do you do when your characters won't shut up?

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  1. What do I do when they won't stop jabbering? For me, I tend to send them into danger, or possibly torment the two leading characters with a hot sex scene.... but interrupt them rudely just seconds before the clothes come off. Most of the time my characters get the point and shut up after the first one or two times I've done that.
    However, it's not my Characters that are the bane of my existence when I write.... its my MUSE! It keep hitting me with hints and ideas for A NEW BOOK that just has to be written RIGHT NOW!...
    I cant win for loosing when it comes to my Muse. Although Negotiations and Chocolate do work wonders. :D

    1. A muse who keeps badgering you - what a great problem to have!

  2. Just last night, at like 2:30 a.m., my characters woke me up and told me to write stuff about them. Sometimes it's best to just do what they tell you.