I am writing a character-driven book. I’ve been saying that to myself all day. It’s as much a surprise to me as to anyone, even though by now, it should have been obvious. I’ve always tried to be pretty in-depth about characters, but until now, all my stories have been plot driven. And yes, I do have a plot here, as I remind myself.
But it’s a character study.
I’ve had quite a bit of time to figure this out, as I haven’t been able to write. I hurt my back, and the hours I have to sit at the computer for work are more than I can take. With the remaining slack time it’s been I can write or talk to Maria. (File my answer under “duh.”) But the answer to my conundrum jumped out at me nonetheless, as for the hundredth time I gnashed my teeth over whether or not there was enough action. “Why isn’t there more action?” I asked myself. “Because the characters’ interactions are more interesting than a couple of fistfights, car chases, and drone attacks.” (Well, maybe not more so than drone attacks.)
I don’t think I realized it until I posted a few videos from writers on my writing blog. Elmore Leonard spoke about his characters’ “auditioning” for their place in the books, and a light went off. That’s what’s been happening with Jeanne Dark. Just like in real life, my characters meet people and either they are inherently interesting, or they aren’t. As in the photo above, some people stand out, and not always for expected reasons. One intended major character turned out to be a dullard, and her role was usurped by her daughter, of all people. The daughter wasn’t intended to have a speaking role, but she met my male lead and the sparks flew. Now she’s threatening to upend my entire plot. She’s not a good girl, but it turns out he likes that in a woman. Who knew?
Another character’s personality dances just out of reach, until she’s hurt. Then, her vulnerability tumbles out, her inner demons are set loose, and we begin to see a complexity in the villainess that makes her actions far more difficult to dismiss. I am at the place where I realize it would be better to continue to explore each character, allowing the reader inside their psyches, motivations, and little dances. The plot will twist, but perhaps that’s the fun. I know where I want them to go, and I know what they are doing, but only they know why.
I have two leads: one is an expert in deception with a penchant for attracting and analyzing people with–shall we say–emotional disorders. The other lead is a synesthete with an intuitive gift that the uninitiated might mistake for her being psychic. I can’t think of a better pair to deal with a group of characters.
Perhaps this has been the process all along. Maybe I am not to write their stories, but simply to allow them to audition for the book. I’m rounding into the second half of the tale, and only a few will make it to the end.
The trick, and the fun, is learning which ones those will be. Certainly, Jeanne will be there … won’t she?