Sitting in the dark with the dogs under my feet, kids sleeping upstairs, and husband zonked out on the couch, I take a moment to think about each of my characters in ways that never appear in the novels. How one of them sleeps with a flashlight. How meatloaf reminds another of cat food. The way a character holds a pencil, eats breakfast cereal, or sings along to the radio. More importantly, I think about what each of them desires most, holding fast to the knowledge that for them I can, unlike for my kids upstairs, really make all their dreams come true.
In the middle of the night I want to play fairy godmother and send Cinderella to the ball. She’s had a miserable life, but wait! There’s beauty under the ashes and soot. She dances with the prince, loses a shoe, but in the end he finds her and they live happily ever after in a big palace, dinning on sumptuous calorie-free chocolates with their children who never ever do things like throw up on the carpet or scatter Lego shrapnel down the stairs. Cinderella, eternally blissful in her big poofy sleeved dress, minuscule waist, and tiny glass heels. Sigh. Such a happy, happy life.
Oh, gag. I’m doing it again.
Too often burgeoning authors treat their characters like pampered privileged children, skipping right to the happy ending and bypassing the juicy details of the journey. In these stories dangers lurk in the shadows, something vaguely bad guys in black hats, but it’s all okay; everybody’s wearing a safety helmet and a lifeguard’s on duty; the sharks have teeth, but are vegan and just wanna be friends. These kinds of stories are full of quirky, loveable characters and stirring descriptions of conversations over cups of tea, but usually lack that vital spark called plot.
The real point, Constant Reader, is that as an author I have to love you more and my characters less. I have to find ways to make you fall in love with them and then take you both on a journey that thrills and chills, pausing just long enough to warm you back to your safe zone before plunging you down, down, down to despair and disbelief. Rather than the maudlin fairy godmother paving Cinderella’s path to happiness, I have to be Murphy’s Law, the minefield under the playground, the shark in the idyllic lagoon.
Cup of tea, anyone?