Dealing with the loss of my characters
Readers feel this. You’ve been engrossed in a book for however long it takes to read it and then, suddenly, the characters are gone. You write me asking what they’ll do now and whether they’ll ever be back. But if you miss them, think of what I’m feeling when I finish writing a book.
Take Sweet Salt Air. I’ve been living with Charlotte and Nicole and Leo and his dog Bear for a year and a half, so finishing the writing and having to let them go is bittersweet for me, too.
Which is why I usually start thinking of the next book even before the last one is done. It’s a defense mechanism, a protection against loss. Am I abandoning my characters? Absolutely not. I’m dovetailing. The old characters stay with me; they simply ease slowly into the shadows as, increasingly, new characters come to life.
There’s another reason why I move right into the next book. Writing is part of my life. It’s what I do when I’m driving around in the car or when I wake up at night or when I’m here at my computer facing a blank screen.
I also have a contract that gives a date when my next book is due to be finished and submitted. And, by contract, I have to put together an outline of the next book for approval prior to the writing.
I finished the original draft of Sweet Salt Air in June, finished the revisions my editor suggested in September. I’ve been plotting since then, going back and forth with ideas, playing the old What If game, which is how I flesh out a plot. What if Caroline is a TV anchor – no, an actress – no, a carpenter? What if her boss is her own son – no, her daughter – no, her daughter who isn’t her boss but her rival?
When I get flashes of images, I write them down. Sometimes those flashes are of an opener, sometimes a closer, sometimes a pivotal love scene – or, yum, a sex scene.
So here’s the image I’m working with. It’s an opener. My main character, Caroline, is sitting on the porch of her charming Victorian home (hence the picture above). It’s a warm day, promising to be a scorcher, but the ceiling fan is whirring softly, stirring up the scent of lilacs in bloom, and she’s holding a tall glass of iced tea. Her bare feet are on the porch railing. She’s basking in the success of a finished project, when the daughter she adores arrives with bad news.
Where would you go from there? Don’t have enough info yet? No. But I do. I’ve been living with these characters for a while now, and not only Caroline, but her daughter Jamie and her co-worker Dean and the head of the business, Roy Sr., who is the father of the man Caroline used to be married to. Ahh, it does get complicated.
I’ve now put together nine single-spaced pages, describing the general plot, the central characters, the story’s progression. I’ve identified the themes, the setting, the reason why I think you all will like this book. At this stage, my job is to sell the idea to my publisher, which I would have done in early November if Sandy hadn’t postponed that trip to New York. We’ve rescheduled for next Monday, at which time I’ll sit down to discuss the book with my editor even before she’s seen the pages. If she has questions, I want to be able to answer them there and then.
Nope. No title yet. That’s a marketing tool, so I let my publisher pick it. Right now, I only see the trees. They’re the ones who see the forest.
I will tell you this. The book is a mother-daughter story that deals with sensuality and creativity and love. Sound okay?