These two words can strike fear in any writer’s heart. It’s a given with me. I know my characters inside and out – or think I do — but sometimes how I picture them isn’t what’s coming through when objective readers get their hands on the manuscript. By objective, I mean professional. Also, by objective, I mean anyone who may have heard my thumbnail sketch of the story, but has yet to meet the characters on the written page. I’ve been through endless conversations, triumphs and tragedies (all in my head) with these people (characters), but that doesn’t mean even I know them. Sometimes I don’t even know myself! Still, I’ve invested time with them – a year and a half. I love a couple of the characters, would like to drop kick a couple others. But have I written them as full as what it takes to engage the reader?
Group therapy – I mean group critiquing – can help. Everyone has a different opinion about what will make the story bigger, better, but there is always a commonality that comes through, a sense of what’s overdone, underdone, or just plain missing. (“More courtship!” “So-and-so is just too perfect…” “…would that really happen?”)
The most recent conference call and brain-storming session happened before Rick and I flew off to New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t take work with me. I wanted to live in the moment and enjoy everything we saw of these two wonderful countries. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t “working”. I pondered. I carried on silent, imaginary conversations with my characters. (It’s important not to let your lips move when you do this. People look at you strangely.) I agreed with the verbal critiques and took the notes of that conversation with me in order to measure what would or wouldn’t work with my characters.
Now that I’m home, I’ve begun the work. Rather than revise and edit the first section, it was easier to put a big chunk of the manuscript aside and start over. Frankly, sometimes it takes writing the entire book before I figure that out what’s wrong and who these people really are. That’s what happened with Marta’s Legacy which ended up being two books (Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream). Twelve hundred pages into the circular file and a fresh start.
All to say, I’m plugging away and enjoying myself more this time around than I did last time. What started out as an allegory and got bogged down in portraying certain characters “accurately” is now less an allegory and simply a story about flawed people who love (or don’t love) Jesus struggling through life on this fallen planet.
I still love these people (characters), even the one I wanted to drop kick out the door.