I got to spend a long weekend with my dear friend and critique partner Author Linda Schmalz. We did a number of things, a book signing here, a trip to the Renaissance Faire there, and it was great.
What was even better, for me at least, were the conversations we had about our current works in progress. It's no secret that I'm eager to release Fresh Ice very soon. It's a bit more of a secret that, well, it sort of stinks right now. Linda's been very patient with me, but the last sections she sent back didn't have a whole lot of love in them from her.
But something she said, as we were stalking the New Minstrel Revue around the Ren Faire, got me to thinking.
"Next time you write a book," she said, "Know your characters better."
Here's the thing: one of the side characters, Collier, was shamelessly inspired by my favorite of the Minstrels, guitar player J Bradley Collier. (Yeah, I know, the name thing is a little scary.) The minute I put Collier in the book I knew exactly who he was because I've been wandering out Ren Faires for YEARS listening to him sing and getting in the odd, and fairly awkward, conversation.
The bigger problem: I was changing Collier in the book to fit with Quinn, when what Quinn was doing wasn't that comfortable for him. In short, the problem with Collier was not Collier's problem. It was Quinn's.
And funny thing, Collier knew it all along. Sure I wanted him to be a romance author. Why not? But Collier Braden James (Why do I always give my characters such august names?) is NOT a romance author. He's a minstrel. He's a soft spoken guy who, for purposes of my book, is very, very, very much in love with Izzy.
Returning to my office after the car accident and an illness (this hasn't been a great couple weeks for me) I found myself really interested in what Collier has to say now that he gets to be himself.
Characters are like that. The old joke is that authors are schizophrenic. We have voices in our heads all the time, we just have to listen to them. (My grandmother WAS schizophrenic, so I approach the idea of obeying the voices in my head with a bit of skepticism.) Sounds strange, but it is very true: The characters will tell us what they want to do.
Ramona told me loud and clear what she wanted in Dream in Color.
Shara wasn't quite so loud in Lies in Chance, but Bryan sure was.
And now, I have to listen to Collier. Oh sure, I have to listen to Izzy and Quinn, too, since you know, they are the main characters. But as a writer, I have to listen for that still, small voice that says,
"HEY IDIOT! I'm NOT A ROMANCE AUTHOR. AND BY THE WAY, I DON'T CRY."
See, even the beta male in a novel can be strong. LOL!