I’m going to let readers in on another little secret about authors…
Sometimes, writers fall out of love with their characters. Much like a real life romance, things authors used to love about certain characters can often become a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g. Especially for those who write series, like me.
When authors start writing a book, especially one with new characters, there’s an excitement about the new relationship. You’re in love. You can’t get enough of these new people in your life. You want to spend every moment with them, from the time you open your eyes in the morning to the time you shut them at night…and even into your dreams. Like budding real life relationships, you want to learn everything you can about your characters and you think their idiosyncrasies are just so damned cute! The spontaneity of this fresh relationship fuels creativity and sparks storytelling. You become imaginative and carefree and willing to risk everything to get these people onto the page. You feel passion, and you have energy and vigor. You’re in lust.
Then time passes and reality sets in. The in love stage gives way to the reality stage, and the demands of writing the story stomp all over the carefree affair an author’s been having with one or all of their characters. The cute things a character used to do now bother you. Stagnation sets in, and like a couple who’s been together a long time, the author sits and stares at this person they’ve created on the page and wonders, “What happened to us? We used to be so happy!”
This is me. Or was, anyway, for the past six months. Those who know me know I’ve had a very long-term love affair with David Bellotti from my Past Life Series. I’ve been writing him for, oh, six years now, and I’ve known him for even longer. But sometime around the middle of 2016, something happened to our relationship. His desire to control situations stood at odds with my desire to control situations. His noble trait of never telling lies took a turn when he decided to start lying to the people he loved, and even me. His drive and single-mindedness and ambition started to become overbearing. He kept trying to tell me what he wanted, and I’d stopped listening. I kept trying to tell him what I wanted, and he’d stopped listening.
We both threw our hands up in frustration.
Then one day, while I was writing David and staring at his photo on my laptop and he was staring back at me, we realized we had a problem. I’d been forcing him into doing things he didn’t want to do and he was fighting back. Neither of us was happy. And we either had to deal with the problem at hand or risk ruining what had been, until then, a beautiful relationship. Worse, we were at risk of ruining the yet-to-be-completed story and the Past Life Series along with it.
A hard decision had to be made. Stay in the same old rut and placing blame, or take responsibility for what had happened to the relationship and find a middle ground where we could fix the damage
The solution came from a very strange, but also very real life, place: couples therapy.
It was the first time in my writing career that my book research took me someplace so personal. However, I learned a few things during this process of “relationship repair” using some great advice I found online:
- Think how not what. In one therapist’s words, “process always trumps content”. This is another way of saying that when emotions heat up, the problem is the emotions and not what the argument is really about. I discovered I was arguing with David over my frustrations in having lost his voice. He was arguing over his frustration in not being heard. Once I accepted I had to fix my emotion–the anger over what was happening–and walk away until I’d settled down, well, only then could I focus on what he was trying to tell me. David wanted the freedom to explore new sides of his personality, to test boundaries and see what else he was capable of, and nothing more. I’d just been too emotional to hear him.
- Think of problems as bad solutions. I discovered that what I thought was the problem was actually masking another problem underneath. So instead of asking David why he was pissed off at me and continually shutting down on me, I asked, “What concerns you about how I’m writing you now? Help me understand why you decided to withdraw and lie.” This was a far cry from what I had been doing before, which was to accuse him of being angry and bully him into telling me why. Once I did that, once I released all expectations of what I thought he’d say, I got the truth. David simply wanted to make his own decisions and not be told what to do.
- Look ahead. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was focusing on all the things that went well for us in the past, but that weren’t going well now. Knowing I had an eye on the rear view mirror, I decided to switch my focus to the road ahead and visualize what I wanted this book, and this series, to look like. Then I asked David what he wanted to see in the future as well. It turned out we both wanted the same thing, and David and I now have a game plan for how we’re going to get there.
- Keep the mystery alive. Even though David is a product of my imagination, I don’t know everything about him. But I’d been trying too hard to do just that, to learn everything there was to know so I could write stronger, more conflict-driven scenes. Turns out that was a bad thing because the more I did it, the more David withdrew. But once I let go, once I realized personal mystery was A Good Thing, I also realized that mystery would lend itself to the page and strengthen my story organically.
I’m happy to say that David and I have reinvigorated our author/character relationship and that it’s now better than it had been. Stronger, deeper, and more realistic.
Funny how real life can so easily superimpose itself onto the fictional world. Even more funny how the fictional world can help you learn more about yourself. 🙂
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