Voices Inside My Head

Lauren Carr gave up her career of writing mysteries for television and stage to try her hand at writing novels. She wrote A Small Case of Murder while staying at home with her young son. Her first book, A Small Case of Murder, was named finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Old Love Dies Hard is Lauren’s fourth book. She learned to love mysteries as a child when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime.  She resides in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Am I Crazy? No, You’re a Writer

Read any author interview about characterization. At some point, they are bound to admit that the characters direct them in their writing.

In trying not to sound schizophrenic, the author will try to explain, “I may want them to do this, but they’ll tell me they want to do that. … They’re real to me. …My characters come alive.”

Fictional characters dictating a plot does sound crazy to someone who’s not a writer.

Do you mean you have fictional people telling you what to write?

Yes, they should. If an author comes to a crossroads in his plot where the character can go left or right, and he doesn’t tell the writer which way to go, then he isn’t fully developed, at which point that author has a problem with his character.

It may be easier to understand if I explain the actual process.

Let’s say you’re writing a book where you have a character that’s a spunky detective like homicide detective Jane Rizzoli in Rizzoli and Isles. She’s tough. She prefers beer to wine. She carries a big gun and knows how to shoot it.

In your plot, the killer abducts Jane, ties her up with duct tape, and leaves her trapped on a pair of railroad tracks with the train coming.

Now, you, as the writer, are planning for your book to end with your main protagonist, Dudley DoRight saving Jane from the railroad tracks and the crazed killer. Dudley has to save Jane.

Unfortunately, Jane is going to have issues with that storyline.

She’s a strong character. She doesn’t want to lay there on the railroad tracks boo-hoo’ing until Dudley gets there to rescue her. That won’t fit with her character. Not only does playing the helpless damsel not fit with her personality; it also doesn’t fit with her profession.

A woman doesn’t get promoted to homicide detective sitting around crying “Save me! Save me!” when she gets into trouble.

What are you, dear writer, going to do?

Your protagonist is Dudley DoRight. He’s the star of your book. If you leave Jane on the railroad tracks doing nothing to save herself, then the reader is going to say, “What a wimp! How did she ever become a cop?”

This is where being a writer is fun.

While characters may take a different path in the storyline, the writer can throw up road blocks sending them in another direction until they end up where he wants them to be.

For example, you can have Jane remain unconscious on the railroad tracks until Dudley arrives, though it would more suspenseful with her screaming for her life while the train is coming.

You can have her and the killer fighting on the tracks with the train speeding towards them until Dudley arrives in the knick of time to save Jane and the killer is smashed like a fly on a car windshield; or, you can let Jane get hit by the train. (I hate killing main likeable characters in the end.)

Or, you replace Jane’s character with one who will sit there crying “Save me! Save me!”—like Penelope Peril.

This will mean a complete rewrite. However, if you want your storyline to go one way and the character won’t fit with it, it may be the way you’ll have to go. Forcing a character to behave in manners contrary to her personality doesn’t work. Readers will scratch their heads and ask, “Why’d she do that?”

I recently replaced a character in my work in progress now, Color of Murder, the third Mac Faraday book.  Yep, I fired a congresswoman. She wasn’t cooperating and wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do. So, I replaced her with a college professor.

How many people can say they’ve fired a politician?

It’s great being a writer.