I really liked him though, and didn’t want to water him down or dilute his impact, so my female character just needed to be better. She had to up her game and compete with him. Literally. I needed to put some spark into the dialogue and create more friction between them. She had to be the irritant – without being irritating –and bring to the story something even bigger, which he couldn’t provide on his own. So she became a woman with a bit of a history.
Stephen King warns us in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that: “The most important things to remember about backstory are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest.”
Any woman with a history has secrets, and the best way I could find for my heroine to hold onto her secrets was to let the reader into her head. I worked out the significant events of her past, buried them into her subconscious, rewrote her into first person instead of third, and let those secrets fester for a while. And out of that cauldron came a whole new Bad Guy in my fifth draft!
I don’t want to sound smug, but I do love it when the writing goes well. And sometimes, for that writing to go well, we have to let our characters find their own way. My initial suggestions and plans for my heroine hadn’t turned out well, so instead I let her carve her own path and carve it she did. I gave her an inch and she ran those miles. In doing so, she created more intricate threads and convolutions for the plot. In short, the novel has taken on a new depth and come alive again.
Stephen King builds his books on situations rather than outlines. He likes to put a character (or group of characters) into some kind of situation and watch them work their way out of it. In other words, he creates a sort of “what if?” scenario. It’s rather like mixing two chemicals and waiting to see what happens. The result can go one of several ways – utter dormancy; a symbiotic mix; or fireworks. In novels, it’s the fireworks that we want. Right now, I am watching the fireworks grow in my sixth draft, and making sense of it all.
I don’t expect this novel to be ready by Christmas, but if I was the kind of writer who did, I’d be selling my readers short. Call me old-fashioned but I can’t get into that modern habit of churning out a book every few months (or weeks, as some do). If the book is to be worth reading, then it must be worth waiting for the writer to do it properly, to the best of his or her ability.
My favourite writers – Kate Morton, Mike Mills and Anne Fortier – don’t turn out books like fast-moving sausage machines, and it shows. Their books are well worth the wait when they are released. Even as I read them, I marvel at the time and effort that must have been spent on building and crafting that intricate plot which I know they created for the sheer enjoyment of me, the reader, and many others like me. Yes, they are books that I read quickly – usually because I can’t put them down once I start – but I relish every moment of them.
And while I’m waiting for each one’s next release, I have plenty of other favourite authors to read, and probably some unknowns that I haven’t yet discovered. That’s what’s so wonderful about the world of books – there is enough space for all of us in it.
So please excuse me while I leave you and try to follow their examples. I have a novel that needs some more work.