Please welcome back guest Lisa Alber who writes the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, was nominated for the Rosebud Award of Best First Novel. Kirkus calls her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, a “worthy successor to Kilmoon in tone, mood, complexity, and keen insight into human failures and triumphs.” She balances writing her third novel (Midnight Ink, August 2017) with gardening, dog walking, and goofing off. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
When Your Characters Need Therapy
A few months ago, a writer friend enthused about her novel in progress. Her characters had taken on lives of their own, and she was in the flow, she was transported, she was SO EXCITED about her novel.
We sat on my patio sipping Tempranillo—honesty: she sipped, I guzzled—with my little dog Fawn snoozing on the lawn chair. The hydrangeas and geraniums and marigolds and begonias were ever so jaunty … But never mind all that nicey-ness, I was grumpy, and made even more grumpy by my friend’s enthusiasm.
Obviously, her characters were well adjusted. There was apparently not a wishy-washy story arc or murky primary motivation among the bunch. Meanwhile, I’d stalled on the first draft of my third novel at about 70,000 words.
My main characters, Danny and Merrit, had gone silent on me. I knew how the story ended, the problem was getting there, and at 70K words, I was heading into the climax and resolution, and I had no clue what to do. I tried thinking about my dilemma purely in terms of plotting to see if the characters would wake up from their own personal Zombielands. I spent a week banging my head against my desk. My brain doesn’t do plot without the deeper character connections to give the plot points SOUL. Yes, SOUL—a.k.a. the internal storylines. Plot points are great, but without soul I couldn’t write them.
So I returned to my characters. I remembered one of my earliest writing lessons from bestselling author Elizabeth George in her craft book, Writing Away: “I become my character’s analyst.” She’s referring to writing character analyses as part of her development process.
I’m a big fan of the therapeutic process, so I decided to engage my characters in a little therapy, en media res, as it were. I pulled out my novel journal, a black-and-white composition book, and tackled Merrit. It went something like this: [Read more…]