As it stands, Michael is an angry man, stomping around, throwing stuff, kicking things, yelling, Julia is as inert as a sponge in the face of life crumbling around her, and Christopher is an onion. As Donkey said to Shrek: “Oh, this is one of those onion things, isn't it?” So many layers, so much peeling back to do. But I’m on the case now. I even went on a road trip with one of my best friends to get the lay of the land, so to speak. We drove up and down country roads (read: got lost because there was no GPS reception out there), stayed in a farmhouse with a corrugated roof and a latticed brick floor, climbed up craggy rocks, and breathed in the freshest of fresh air. It gave me a new perspective on my characters, how they relate to the land and, ultimately, each other. In doing so I realised it was time for another conversation with them, one, I imagine, will go something like this:
“So I’ve been thinking…maybe it’s time we got back together.” Long expectant pause. “Give it another shot.”
They all nod, as though they’ve been waiting for this moment all along.
“We knew you’d come back to us,” Michael says. “You just needed some time.”
It turns out he's right. I needed time to think, time to breathe, just time. Until I was ready to come back and write the story my characters really want me to tell.
The Bay of Shadows is available now.
So what did I do?
I started from scratch. Quite literally. I opened a new document in word, copied in the very first line from the previous draft, and sat there for a long while wondering what on earth I was doing. Part of me really did want to go back to the other draft. For a couple of reasons. One, it is nearly 78,000 words long so I have a book there ready to go and, secondly, it is a good story. But… (And there is always a ‘but’) It is a good story, but it’s not a great one. Therein lies the rub. I owe it to my characters and, more importantly, to my readers, to write something that is the very best I can do. It doesn’t matter if I sail over deadlines like a pole vaulter, or collect birthdays in the process, all that matters is making it amazing. It’s not a loss, starting again – the words are still there, just in the wrong order, and the characters are waiting for me to do something (to explain myself, perhaps!)
SO IT HAS COME to this. We’re having the conversation… The one that starts with, “We need to talk.” You know the one.
I’d written about the issues I was having with Under Ten Thousand Stars in a previous blog. The main issue – and one no amount of moving words around the page has been able to fix – is that I’m not convinced by my characters’ motivations. You see, my main protagonist, Julia, who is married to Michael, is having a rough time of things. Suddenly her perfect life is no longer perfect, and she’s about to make everything a whole lot worse. Mostly on account of another man. But I won’t give too much away here because that would spoil all the fun. Then there’s the side matter of them being likeable, although, technically, they don’t have to be likeable, just relatable. That’s the other problem, though: right now, I’m not sure they are.
It had been coming for a while now but, like anyone determined to make a relationship work – AT ALL COSTS – there came a realisation that things weren’t working out, and no amount of self-talk was going to fix it. I had to face the truth: it was time to break up with my characters.
“It’s not that I don’t love you anymore,” I reassured them. “It’s just that we seem to be going in different directions.”
“Let’s talk about this!” they chorused. “We can work something out.”
“Sorry, no. My mind is made up.”
MADE IN PIXEL TOGETHER