Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sprucing Up

Photo: BlackStarVideo via Pixabay
We've lived in our house for twenty-three years. Initially, we put a lot of sweat equity into it, re-painting, renovating or re-decorating every room. Some more than once.

For years, I tackled a project every summer (I was much younger then), but sometime after my daughter stopped taking naps and I started writing seriously, I stopped pouring energy into the house and started putting it into other things. Like writing books.

As anyone who's lived in the same house for more than two decades can attest, without small spruce-ups, at the very least, a house begins to look run down. But right now, with tuition checks taking top funding priority and multiple writing projects taking top creative priority, there are no home makeovers in our immediate future.

So this has been the summer of small spruce-ups. Replacing a shower head (necessary when the old one made showering with the garden hose seem more palatable). Getting new white lights for my office (when the old ones refused to be resuscitated even one more time). Buying new towels for the bathroom, new pillows for the mudroom benches and new furniture for the playroom/mancave/family room. These little changes don't erase the need for bigger projects (like repainting rooms in the house), but they have a positive impact nevertheless.

Characters are a lot like houses. After an initial investment of time, they become comfortable in their roles, each a sort of room of her own, and it's easy for them to slip into the status quo and stay there.

But after a time, they begin to feel neglected. They might stop working well, like the lights in my office, fading into plot oblivion. Or, they might threaten to let themselves go like the old cushions in our mudroom, too comfortable in their well-worn state to rise to the occasion with dialogue more fascinating than small talk.

Or, if they're like Marita, Charli, Bets and Angel, they might demand to heard. Angel, as you can imagine, is less demanding than the rest of the group, but she's got a few things going on. Marita and Charli don't really complain much, but every once in a while, they assert themselves in a scene, and do something I hadn't expected.

As I continue to work on the sequel to Chasing a Second Chance, I've been frustrated that I haven't been able to meet the idealized timeline I've been keeping in my head. I watch other authors write three books in the time it's taking me to write this one and I worry. When readers ask about the book, I tell them it's in the works, which is true, and taking longer than expected.

Also true.

What I've come to realize is happening, though, is that these characters are my home. I've come to know them very well, and I've become attached to them just as they are. Like a well-worn sofa or a pair of perfectly broken in jeans, they're comfortable and low-maintenance. It's easy to just sit down and shoot the breeze with them.

But that does not make for scintillating story.

Luckily, like my house, my characters know when it's time to shake things up. Not content with the status quo, they come at me with ideas I wasn't anticipating. At first, I blamed Bets, because she, more than any of the others, loves center stage. But one by one, other characters have surprised me as well (just as Charli did that night at youth group in Chasing a Second Chance). I'm moving along, typing a scene when suddenly one of them takes over and says, "No, this is where we're going."

Gregory Daniels to Marita Mercer in
Casting the First Stone
So far, they haven't steered me wrong. Every twist has brought a bit of intrigue I hadn't planned on, one that makes the story more interesting, if not better overall.

Lest you think this book is causing me to lose touch with reality, let me assure you of my sanity -- or at least as much of it as I've ever had. Through my characters, I'm exploring endless possibilities through the series of "what-ifs" that is the domain of the character-driven author. I'm ready to be the authoritative parent, bringing them back on track if they go too far astray, but so far, no one has.

So, as it turns out, the journey to the end of this (still untitled) third Marita/Charli/Angel adventure is going to take a little longer than I'd planned. But, like a Sunday drive or the scenic route, the trip will, I hope, be worth the time.

And I'm definitely having fun along the way.

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