Who’s in Charge, Here?

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My characters are MY characters. I made them up. I wrote them down. They exist in my head and on my hard drive. They aren’t living, breathing people that take over my mind. They aren’t my babies or children or friends. No flesh, no blood, just ink and pixels and paper and screens.

And yet…

Delia, my heroine in Stone Kissed secretly loves the oldies—Duran Duran, the DiVinyls, Laura Branigan, the Violent Femmes and more—classic music from the 70s and 80s. (Yes, I know. But she’s in her mid-twenties and I am not, so in her mind, these are “oldies.” I forgive her for that and so should you.) The music her mother loved ties her to her dead mother, who used to sing “Gloria” to her, but replace the title with Delia’s name. It was the only way Mrs. Forrest even obliquely acknowledged Delia’s ability to talk to statues. I know this, and now you do, too. Most of the book’s readers, however, will never know the story behind the story because I cut those scenes.

kindling fireI took down the bust of Eisenhower from Delia’s attorney’s office. He was a snarky, snotty, nasty piece of marble and I dearly loved him. But since all he did in early drafts was dump information, he had to go. When Delia was very young–well before the book begins–a carving reveals that the butcher next door to her parents’ apartment is abusing his wife.  It was a tight, quiet scene. I wept writing it. I wept rereading it. And I shed a couple tears because it didn’t forward the plot and had to go.

Characters, scenes and plot threads from earlier versions of Stone Kissed still exist in the back of my head, although I am ruthless about cleaning them out of my computer. Unless I can specifically use them in another work, I don’t save excisions.  I know many writers advocate filing these snippets for future use, but I just can’t. When I decide to kill a character, he must remain dead. When I decide to burn a bridge, I walk away from the embers, never to go back.

And yet, sometimes I DO go back because readers take me there. Readers fill in blanks, identify patterns aPhotobucketnd motifs, and tell me things about my characters. When My critique partners, beta readers and reviewers with advanced reader copies weigh in, I find myself learning even more about Delia, Grant, the statues and the town of Stewardsville.

Books aren’t just vehicles by which writers inject stories into readers. Your imagination and reasoning skills come into play as well. You see aspects of my characters I didn’t realize I’d written. You make connections between events and characters I didn’t even know were there. You bring them to life.

Thank you for the story.

Comments

  1. Wow; it’s so cool to learn how another person writes. I do keep a file for discards, and I even call it discards.doc. It’s really a file for scenes that I’m not using AT THE MOMENT, and often I paste something there just to get it out of the way, knowing I’ll come back for it later. It’s a big unorganized mess, but I always come back to it knowing just what I’m looking for, so I can find what I need quickly.

    As for deleted characters, I’m with you–once they’re gone, they are gone. I recently decided that one of my villains had to go–he was adding unnecessary complexity to the plot and making my character into a victim, which is taboo for me. However, I’m careful about adding characters to begin with. They don’t get a name until I know how they are going to advance the plot. For that reason, I did not name the mother of my character in my current story, because I didn’t know how I was going to use her. Finally, I decided that she had to go, and one of my heroine’s aunts is now her stepmother in a very complicated and angsty relationship. Much better! It gives her a nice parallel to Cinderella, too–they both have stepmothers and dead fathers.

    Oops, I’d better stop or I’ll give the whole story away! I’m looking forward to reading Stone Kissed!

  2. Heh. I won’t be so twee as to beleive that my characters are real, but sometimes they know better than me – and when they refuse to die – or die when I didn’t really want them to, or do incomprehensible things that make sense later… I tend to take notice of them. Yes yes I know it’s my subconcious, but it never ceases to amaze me.

    I can’t permenantly delete anything, it’s rather sad that there are all these dusty clips in my pc folders…

  3. Erastes,
    It horrifies people that I delete like I do. But I couldn’t be able to begin to organize those clips, and they become distractions/hard drive clutter that make me crazy and make me second-guess myself (should I have really cut that?)

    OTOH, when I accidentally run across one sometimes it sparks something new.

  4. It’s really interesting to see how another writer creates. I think we’ve all had scenes that had to go even though we’ve loved them. I try to offer them on my website for readers so they get a chance to see the creative process as well as the editing process. Congrats on your new release! Sounds like a great story that needs to go on my TBR pile.

  5. Oh, Stewardsville! So THAT’s where the hospital is! (Clearly, I did’t realize it was your fictional Stone Kissed town when I saw your Facebook comment!)
    I love writers who can create worlds. When I was a lit student, that used to amaze me about Faulkner, the way he invented a southern county, populated it, and remained true to the environment and the people living there.
    I love romance writers who can do that. I tend to gobble up their whole series: Nalini Singh and Larissa Ione are current favorites.
    How cool that you’ve invented Stewardsvill and there will be more happening there!

  6. Love to hear about your process and the story sounds really intriguing. But I’d file those exicsed bits of story away just in case. Especially if there’s a particularly nice turn of phrase you used or an interesting character that could be embroidered into another story some day.

  7. ROFL I get the feeling you snippet savers are worried for me :)

    Yeah, Liz. In the next book, the music is ALL over the map.

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