Help me welcome Handsome Hansel from the Dance of Romance. Are your characters like your children? Is it time to throw them into the deep end of the pool?
Maybe it’s the afterglow of all the Turkey I consumed this Thanksgiving or perhaps it’s the two-fingers of Gentleman Jack I just polished off after reluctantly participating amongst the Black Friday crowds, but earlier this evening I emailed Carrie with the title of this post. When I did it, I knew what I meant to write about.
Like any writer, I have moments of epiphanies. I have sparks of brilliance. I even have sentences I’ve written that make me proud of myself. I used to write these moments on my forearm with a black Sharpie so I wouldn’t forget them later. But…this afternoon I didn’t have a Sharpie on me. So right now…I’m dead in the water.
(Exactly 43 minutes later.) Made up of a trip to the kitchen to pour another drink, a bathroom break, then staring at my iMac for the remaining 35 minutes.
Ok, I think I remember now.
I am in the fortunate position of being in the middle of cleaning up my manuscript with the help of an outside content editor and my publisher, who is also a line editor. (A position I didn’t know existed until she informed me it did.) Needless to say, between the two of them, I’ve been humbled as I’m sure all authors are once they let go of their work and have others take over.
One of the things I’ve had to do is “add depth” to my characters. Not that they’re shallow per se. They just prefer playing in the kiddy-pool of character development and haven’t seen the need to at least dog paddle in the deep end.
Like any parent (author), I’m hesitant to force my babies (characters) into the deep end. I’ve watched as other parents throw their newborn infants into the deep end of the pool and I’ve stood, stunned in amazement. After a couple breathless moments, the baby begins swimming. Underwater to boot! Fearless. Comfortable within its circumstances. Able to adapt and survive.
I’ll observe as the parent pulls its baby out of the water, dries it off, and returns the smile their baby is giving them. I’m jealous. I wish I had a baby who was happy I’d feigned their drowning under the premise of teaching it to swim.
Instead, I’ve been standing on the edge of the pool watching as my characters frolic in the shallow end. Occasionally they’ll shoot me smiles of appreciation because I brought them to the pool at all.
I’ve been working on my manuscript for awhile; as is the norm in the writing world I’ve come to learn. Which means my characters aren’t babies anymore. They are difficult, rebellious, pain-in-my-ass teenagers now. It’s my fault they won’t venture past the “4-foot” markings of the pool I’ve put them in. They’re afraid only because I’m afraid for them. They feel it in the hesitancy of my fingers on the keyboard. I can tell them it’s ok to head into deeper waters but they feel the uncertainty I have with my own encouragement of them. So they’re not going anywhere. Even with water-wings.
If I have any chance of getting my babies into the deep end of the pool, I have to push me first. I have to get over my fear of the possible dangers they’d face and reassure myself I’ll be there to save them no matter what happens. After-all, I have the help of the pools lifeguards: my editors and publisher.
So I have to suck it up and not ask my characters to expand their horizons and become a well rounded character but demand they do. No matter their age, I have to pull them from the shallow end, throw ‘em into the deep end and hope they swim. They’ll gasp, sputter, and call me everything but a white man while it’s happening, but they’ll thank me in the long run.
Even if they struggle at first, I can get in the water and guide them along, giving advice as to how to dog paddle when they can’t actually swim. Teaching them the various strokes of swimming until they are comfortable. More importantly, I’ll have learned there is nothing to fear by having done it. Turns out it’s ok to sub-textually drown your own characters for their betterment. Who knew?
It’s a scary, scary place for us as authors to push our characters. Push them to places we didn’t even know they could go. Making them do things we didn’t know they could do. We are our characters catalysts. They answer to us, not us to them. Just because they don’t want to grow doesn’t mean we have to be ok with it.
I took a leap of faith early on and emailed a chapter to a friend of mine for her thoughts. The first time she gave her opinion on a scene with one of my characters I truly felt like a parent listening as another parent badgered my kid. I listened, I electronically nodded in all the right places, and I felt like a loser as a parent to my babies. I’d let them down.
What was lost in my thinking is that all is not lost. There is hope. I can save my children from being ridiculed. They don’t have to become 20-somethings still creepily occupying the kiddy end of the pool. I had it in me to guide them to where they should be. Where they deserved to be.
As authors we have to go first though. It is up to us to show our characters there is nothing to fear. If they see we are comfortable…completely comfortable…in the deep end, they’ll follow. And it will make a hell of a story.
RU Writers, how do you make your characters fully developed?
Join us on Monday for Blog Tour Tips for the Busy Writer with Dani Collins
Bio: Like most of us, I’ve been around the block a time or two (or three) in the relationship world. I like to think of myself as having a pretty thick skin, however, that skin doesn’t surround the heart.
I’ve been in love; I’ve been in lust. I’ve been hurt and got up to do it all again, each time having learned more of myself as well as “wants” and “don’t wants” for my next relationship. Amazingly enough, I never gave up on that one true love wrapped in Romance. You can visit me here, at http://thedanceofromanceonline.com
- The Importance of Vulnerability in Relationships with Angela Ackerman
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – December 2nd to December 6th
- Empathy. It’s Where Characters Are Born – Handsome Hansel
- Learning to Love Again with Handsome Hansel
- Tips on Writing Deep POV by Barbara Wallace