Our guest today is Amy Sue Nathan, a debut Women's Fiction Author, with great tips on how to get out of your character's way. I've heard great things about her novel, so be sure to check it out! Here's Amy:
When I hunkered down to write a novel about a divorced mom in the suburbs whose ex-husband had suddenly died, I had a little bit of trouble separating the words and actions of Evie, my main character, from my own words and actions. After all, I was a divorced mom in the suburbs whose ex-husband had died suddenly. Yet, I wasn’t writing a memoir, nor was I writing a novel ripped from the headlines, based on a true story, or even inspired by one. While the springboard for The Glass Wives was born in truth, I wanted the main character, Evie, to bear little resemblance to me. But when I started writing, I kept forgetting that.
I inserted myself into the pages and the characters (all of them) much more so that was necessary, or warranted, or let’s face it—desirable. This method did not allow for individual characters to take shape with their own arcs, their own back stories, and their own drive toward the end of book.
In those first drafts the characters were all different parts of me instead of whole characters unto themselves. No wonder they seemed so familiar. No wonder the story had little conflict and lots of resolution (chronic conflict-avoider at your service). No wonder the writing was, dare I say, flowing.
After getting plenty of feedback on the quiet nature of my story, how the conflict wasn’t intense enough, the characters exciting enough, I was convinced that no one “got it”. What did they know? But the story taunted me.
I needed to tell the story of a single mom and a newfangled family. I wanted to tell the story of moving forward after exponential loss. I needed to give single moms a voice louder than my own.
So I kept writing.
Then one day, while revising a tense, emotional scene for the umpteenth time, a scene I had been told was not tense or emotional enough (jeez) I kept thinking how I would never do or say the things Evie needed to do and say in that scene. It was barely believable, I thought. I felt bullied by my attempts and annoyed at my intention to deviate from reasonable ways to behave in that situation. The situation I’d created on the page!
And then it hit me.
I didn’t have to think it was normal or okay or reasonable or meaningful or necessary. Evie did. She was her own person. And frankly, she told me to go blow. To go blow and keep writing, I should say.
I adopted WHAT WOULD EVIE DO as my mantra and posted W-W-E-D around my computer, my desk, on the notepads that surrounded me in my various writing stations around the house. Some muses have harps. Some muses have wings. My muse had four simple letters.
Seeing the WWED acronym everywhere changed my thinking as if it were a light turned on after hours in a pitch-dark room. It was so damn bright it almost hurt, but made everything clear.
After that, anytime I thought about myself in a situation presented in the book, I said it aloud: What Would Evie Do? It was direct. It got me back on track.
When I wasn’t writing, but was thinking about writing or when a scene or line of dialogue was harassing me while I was doing something else, I doodled WWED instead of doodling hearts and flowers and squiggly lines. I wrote it on napkins, grocery lists, and a few times, on the top of my hand. This acronym lifted me out of my own head and life and landed me in Evie’s. And then I grew quite comfortable there.
The result was that Evie behaved very differently than I would most of the time. It became natural to write in Evie’s headspace, on her behalf, fighting her battles, suffering her losses, winning her wars, and baking her cookies.
Without that writing and character revelation I believe that The Glass Wives would be in a drawer, or defunct file folder or in yet another round of mild-mannered revisions.
Allowing Evie to have things her way is what enabled me to finish the book, sign with an agent, and for him to sell the novel. It is what enabled me to revise it again with an editor. And then get a book cover. Start promotion. Schedule events. Plan for book clubs.
So, What Would Evie Do now?
I think she’d tell me to leave her alone, and finish writing my next book.
Amy Sue Nathan’s debut novel, The Glass Wives, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Griffin, May 14, 2013. She hosts the popular blog, Women’s Fiction Writers, and has been published in many newspapers and journals. Amy is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can visit her website AmySueNathan.com and follow her on Twittter @AmySueNathan, where she tweets about writing, par
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