Going Where the Characters Take You

This week, I met up with some of the wonderful members of the Greater Detroit Romance Writers group for dinner and a write-in session. While we worked hard, we also chatted a bit here and there. (And laughed a lot.) One of the ideas that came up in our discussions was that characters sometimes take a writer to places the writer doesn’t expect. We all agreed; we’d all been there. You plan a book, you create a character, and so seemingly you’re the god of this manuscript – yet sometimes the characters tell you that they need to do something you hadn’t expected.

I’m eagerly working on three projects right now, which is not my habit. Typically I work on one book at a time, from start to finish, because I like to walk around with the characters talking in my head and let them really sink in as I get to know them and their story. But this new year has been an inspired one so far. A new idea for a hot story set in New Orleans jumped out at me, and before I knew it, I’d written four chapters without even an outline. (Also unusual for me.) I’m also revisiting a YA I wrote years ago that I think might be worthy of sharing with the world, once it’s polished. And, thanks to the GDRW crew, I mustered the courage to open the file on the celebrity romance I started last August and abandoned after some bad news.

Here are things these characters are doing that I had not expected:

  • The celebrity romance pair wants to have a very sexual relationship long before their declarations of love kick in and long before they overcome the obstacles to being a real couple. I typically write one sex scene, most of which is off the page, after the couple acknowledges they want to be together, so writing a narrative where the sex comes first is huge. It’s a big deal for a romance writer. Readers typically stick with one heat level, so it can be off-putting when an author whose books they normally read switches heat. For now, I’m writing as the plot as the characters want it to happen, but we’ll have to wait and see in the end if they get their way in the final version.
  • In the New Orleans story – and this is the biggest shocker – the woman protagonist seems to be on a course to fall in love with a cis straight man. Since I write LGBTQ romance, this is huge. I probably cannot finish, sell, and market this book as Jane Kolven. Beyond sales concerns, though, this was just plain weird to me to realize. I’m not sure I fully know this character yet, since her experiences are so different from my own. But I’ll go along with her for now to see where she takes me.

There are many different ways to write. Some people create outlines and character sketches and know before they put their hands on the keyboard what’s going to happen. Others just start typing and see what happens. I’m usually a plotter, but I’ve always been a plotter open to where the story might lead. This January, I did not expect to be led to writing multiple books at the same time, and I definitely didn’t expect these characters to take their sexuality in these directions. Right now, since the stories are all in the nascent stages, my job is to just to listen and observe before making any conclusions about what will and won’t stay in the book.

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