Starting with Love

Before I can really dive into the plot of a new project, I usually need to map out the relationship between the hero and heroine. Once I have a handle on what obstacles they’re facing, the very compelling reasons they have to surmount those obstacles, and how and when they’re going to overcome them, the rest of the story comes together much more smoothly. This also helps me to keep my focus where it needs to be – on the characters.

When I read or write a book, I’m most interested in the characters. I need a vehicle into the story, a narrator that I can relate to on some level, no matter how small. World building is fun, and I can get lost in the details of a new universe for weeks. But I can never let my readers get lost in those worlds. It’s my job to guide them through the sights, and for that, I need to create characters the readers enjoy spending time with (even if they spend much of that time yelling at them to admit they’re in love with each other already!).

Those We Love

When I wonder what to work on next, I usually look to my characters for the answer. Which of them is in the worst state right now? Who is enduring the most emotional turmoil? Is anyone in mortal danger? What I’m really asking is, who has the most at stake?

At the moment, I have a character who just realized he and his best friend can finally become lovers (and hasn’t yet realized what that will cost them), a couple making out for the first time (and unaware of the danger approaching them), and a woman sitting alone in a dark room holding herself responsible for things completely outside of her control that are already done and over with.

The first two couples are in imminent mortal danger, but are having a lot of fun where I left off in writing their stories. The last is in no physical danger whatsoever, but she’s in that dark room. Who has the highest stakes at the moment? That woman sitting alone. She’s questioning everything she thought she knew about herself. Hers is the story I want to write next because I can’t leave her there.

That emotional investment in my characters is what propels me forward in my writing. I care about these fictional people. I want them to find their way, to build a life for themselves that will result in more happiness than sorrow. That’s what keeps me showing up at the page day after day, and what I hope will keep the readers turning pages, unable to stop until they know that this character they now also love is going to be okay.

I want my readers to have a fun, thrilling adventure when they read my books. More than that, my goal as an author is for the love I feel for my characters to come through in my writing and for my readers to love them as well.

Creative Connection

When I write, I don’t feel as if I’m creating something. I’m getting something down on the paper instead. My brain produces a constant stream of movies set in my own worlds and populated with people born from my subconscious. Often, I do control them, like playing with dolls as a child (though I was usually more interested in anthropomorphizing plastic dinosaurs). I create situations for my characters to react to and base their reactions on what makes the most sense for them to be believable. But the best times are when they wrest control from logical thought and my imagination runs rampant.

I love it when my writing surprises me.

Those moments are when I understand what people mean by being a conduit for the stories to travel through. It feels like something outside of myself has taken over, a rush of energy and thought flowing through me that is other. The creative force is one of the headiest experiences of human existence.

I write because I must in order to be me. The feeling of connection to some great source of creativity is one of the most rewarding parts of the process.

Writers Helping Writers

Authors with a passion for words will hone their craft; whether they use research, workshops, critique groups, or the most important means – practice! There are many tools for becoming a better wordsmith. One of the most important methods for me has been helping and receiving help from other writers. Maybe one writer I know will find a writing coach whose instructions are pure gold, or another will develop a new writing exercise technique for honing our skills that is brilliant. We all work together to advance our craft.

I liken it to climbing a mountain. We could hoard our knowledge, knocking loose the pitons that we’ve placed in the stone to help us on our way so no one can follow us. Or, we could call out to the others on the same journey, letting them know where a grip might be that is out of their sight, or that a ledge is close by for resting, if they can only push on a little further.

Finding a publisher for our finished work is a fiercely competitive field. But if we let competition overpower creativity we close ourselves off to opportunities and friendships that can be truly remarkable.

When talking about the act of writers helping writers, I like to say, “There’s plenty of awesome to go around.” Helping each other to create stories, to polish them until they shine, even if it’s only for ourselves, that is a worthwhile pursuit.

Stories

Recently, I noticed that most of my friends are radically different people. They have different hobbies, different beliefs, different backgrounds, different values, even. But when they get together in a room, everyone is kind to each other beyond simple manners. I’ve often wondered what it is that makes them gel, and finally think I’ve found the answer. They’re all avid readers.

Stories, especially written stories, show us what is happening in another person’s heart and mind. We can share the characters’ life experiences, their thoughts and emotions, in a singularly intimate way. Whether we like the character or not, we learn by watching them, and we take that knowledge with us when we meet others in the real world. I think readers might be more empathetic because they have “walked 300 pages in another person’s shoes” over and over again.

But what brings us to the page in the first place?

Books and stories delight people in various ways. Some people like to be frightened, others like to be inspired. For me, it’s about connection. That’s why I tend to read romance novels. I want to know that, by the end, the characters I’ve spent so much time with and learned to know and care about will be all right and living a better life than at the start of the story. Life has enough uncertainty. At least with this, with the books I choose to read and experience, I know I’m heading toward a “Happily Ever After.”

Why Write

When I’m looking at a blank page, my inner critic likes to remind me that I haven’t published yet, and there’s every chance no one will ever see the words I’m about to put on the page. Writing is hard work, especially when I’m going through the entire process of finishing a novel, editing it, polishing it, and getting it ready for the world. And then begins the process of researching publishers to find a match for the piece, and there’s the daily work of always always always learning, reading, studying, practicing, all to improve my craft.

Why not just daydream and enjoy the stories myself?

And then I think about those moments when I’ve shared my work with someone who really got it. Someone who said, “Yes! This.” And that singular feeling of connecting with another human being drives me to keep going, to keep putting word after word on the page. It’s all the more terrifying for all the people out there who will say, “No. Not this.” But without trying, without sending out these flares of self-expression, I’ll miss those connections that make life so worthwhile.

whitman