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When Your Characters Torment You

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 30, 2014

Characters can torment you, the writer, for a variety of reasons. Secondary characters may want to have their stories told. Main characters might whisper in your ear to tell their tale. And when you’re in the midst of spinning your web of deceit, the characters live within your head, unwilling to let you go.

Silver Serenade is an example of main characters who wanted their story to be heard. Rookie assassin Silver Malloy and desperate fugitive Jace Vernon are both after the same man, terrorist leader Tyrone Bluth. Silver’s assignment is to kill the man while Jace needs Bluth alive to prove his innocence. For Jace—a diplomat turned desperado and a crack pilot—bigger political issues are at stake that could lead to galactic war. For Silver, the issue is personal. Tyrone’s Marauders destroyed her family and her research. Revenge fills her heart, and she’s vowed nothing will stop her from her goal. Forced to team up in their pursuit, Silver and Jace realize that when they catch Bluth, one of them must yield.

4585894_med   Silver

These characters whispered in my ear to tell their tale until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. They’d been the subject of my option book after I wrote four scifi romances for Dorchester. As the market for futuristics took a dive, Dorchester turned down this fifth title. Years passed, and the cycle came around. Paranormals and its various subgenres made a resurgence. I finished Silver Serenade and sold it to The Wild Rose Press. Finally, their story was done.

Now I’m in the throes of torment again. I am fifty pages away from finishing Peril by Ponytail, my twelfth Bad Hair Day mystery. When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, the characters are swirling in my head. What’s going to happen in the next scene? Am I considering all the angles? Could I be forgetting to follow through on one of the suspects? Did I remember to have a funeral service for the first victim? What about his wife, who stands to gain a substantial inheritance from his death? Did we examine this motive in the course of the story? How will Marla and Dalton find their way through the maze of underground tunnels in the mine scene?

And always, there’s the underlying anxiety—Will I have enough to reach my word count?

I am driven to finish this story. The characters won’t let me have any peace until we’re done.

Does this happen to you?

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11 Responses to “When Your Characters Torment You”

  1. Ann said

    Nancy, so glad to hear a pro like you has this issue. I’m having a horrible time with my WIP because my intended victim is determined not to let me kill her – she even started a flirtation with my protag’s mentor. I’m stuck trying to deal with her

  2. Nancy you are truly driven! And it shows. I have to tell you, you are freakin’ amazing!!

  3. Hey Nancy,

    Yes my characters torment me. They don’t give a hoot for what I have planned for them. I used to make them toe the line, Now I let them have some free rein, as long as we reach the critical plot points. I’ve found something interesting as I’ve taken this road more scary. The characters have quite good instincts. Great post!

    Maggie

  4. G. Clinton Styles said

    Outline… outline your story before you start writing it. And stick to it.

  5. I was finishing up the current WIP in my Mapleton Mystery series, and a character I thought I’d finished with showed up instead of the one I thought would be there, demanding to be heard. It actually worked better that way. If I’d outlined and stuck to it, it wouldn’t have been as good. (I never outline, nor do I write synopses.) I think our subconscious minds do a lot of foreshadowing for us. And since my Blackthorne series revolves around a covert ops team cast of characters, they’re always wanting more time on the page. I even broke the ‘rules of romance’ and brought back the same h/h as protagonists in two of my Pine Hills Police series. I say listen to them. They might know more than we do.

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