I’ve recently begun a new, as-yet-untitled romantic thriller. The story has been rattling between my ears for a while, but it’s a departure from a girl-meets-girl romance, since it opens with a couple who have been together for several years. I finally worked out the ragged spots and managed to outline 80% of the plot. In a pleasant surprise, that missing 20% isn’t at the end, which means I won’t have to create a miracle to pull all the threads together. I just have to build a sturdy bridge to it.
So with my notes in place, I wrote Chapter One with a clear vision of where the story would go. My practice is usually to write the first draft of the entire manuscript as fast as I can. Why? Because as any writer knows, self-editing as you go can be paralyzing. The doubts overwhelm the process, and pretty soon, nothing you write is good enough. So I plow on, issues be damned. I drop notes to myself in ALL CAPS to go back and change a detail, to insert a scene that foreshadows the action, to introduce a doubt that explains a character’s motivation. This process has helped me stay productive.
But something went wrong this time. Just as I’d planned, Chapter One set the stage for the developing conflict, dramatic finish and resolution. But it isn’t Chapter Two that’s holding me up. It’s that I can’t get happy with what I’ve written so far, and I’m afraid that will have devastating consequences on how the rest of the story unfolds. I even know what’s wrong — both of my main characters leap out of the gate with flaws that must be overcome. Unfortunately, that means they’re at their weakest when you first meet them. Natalie Chatham (Sea Legs), Daphne Maddox (Playing With Fuego) and Amber Halliday (West of Nowhere) started their character journeys in a deep hole, with traits that rendered them unlikable from the get-go for many readers. That they grew to conquer their flaws and become better people isn’t even a footnote to those who didn’t bother to read further.
I’m reasonably confident I’ll get there eventually — a comfortable balance between strength and flaw that, with luck, will keep you turning the pages. Diagnostics are a good first step.
What makes you put a book down? I know … sloppy writing. But what else? Is it always fatal if you don’t care about the characters right away?
I’m very happy and proud to share the results of my Lambda Literary fundraiser, which I detailed in my last blog. You guys snatched up ALL of my author’s copies of Trial by Fury, and even forced me to order more. As promised, I matched your donations and we raised over $5,100. That’s just all kinds of … *check thesaurus* … splendiferous! Thanks to Nancy, Sandra, Laura, Sandy, Ann, Dawn, Jo Anne, Meryl, JJ, Danielle, Silke, Darla, Carleen, Norma, Jeanne, Sylvie, Jen and Bolo the Magnificent.