Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Behave!

Cricket McRae

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Like Kathleen, who posted yesterday, I recently finished my latest mystery for Midnight Ink. It’s the sixth in the Home Crafting Series, which I’ve been calling Digging Up Darla. However, Darla is out, and the official title has been changed to A Deadly Row to Hoe. The backdrop for the murder this time around is vegetable gardening and community supported agriculture. It will release in November of 2012.

Of the nine novels I’ve completed, this one was possibly the hardest to write. I say possibly, because I think writing a book is a little like giving birth – joyous and painful, and after it’s all over your memory of the difficulty fades. All that remains is the happiness and sense of accomplishment. So I could be wrong.

The memory is still pretty strong right now, though, and I remain surprised at how I struggled with characters who are such old friends. I’ve always enjoyed spending time with them and have a good notion of how they’ll develop over the course of the series.

But this time they refused to behave.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about why they suddenly got their backs up, dug their heels in, pick your own cliché.  My protagonist in particular was moping around one minute and then freaking out the next. Sophie Mae is not that kind of gal. In fact, she wonders to herself about her unusual reactions before realizing it might have to do with hormones. I swear, at one point I was ready for her to go into therapy.

Now, you can rightfully scoff at the idea of an author not being in control of her characters. The whole idea of a writer avoiding responsible for her writing bothers me. So blaming my characters is a cop out. It did, of course, feel like they were fighting me at the time, but it was all in my head.

Right?

One possible reason things went awry is that the story I originally intended to write had to be thrown out for various (valid) reasons. But it was still there, in the back of my mind, messing with the story I was actually supposed to be telling.

And then there’s the fact that I’m usually more of a seat-of-the-pantser writer. In some of the mysteries I’ve written the killer ended up being someone completely different than I intended. All the clues were there, as well as real, believable motivation. I love it when that happens. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

Well, I was surprised all right, but not by the story. Due to what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe of life,” I had a tighter schedule for Deadly Row. So I put together more of an outline than usual and wrote to it. I don’t regret the outline, but I do regret that it was too sketchy. As I neared the end of the book I could tell the character motivations were off. Their misbehavior was likely my subconscious waving its hands in the air, trying to get my attention before I’d gone too far.

However, I had a deadline, and I’m stubborn.

Finally I gave in, ripped out the last half of the book, and totally rewrote it. That required some rewriting in the first half, too, but it was worth it. I hope I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Have you even had a character misbehave? As a reader, can you recall books that fell flat because the characters seemed to be following a plotline rather than what their personalities would dictate?

9 comments:

Lois Winston said...

Hmm...you have characters who usually behave? I'm wondering what that must be like. ;-)

Vicki Doudera said...

I haven't experienced misbehaving characters yet, Cricket, but I'm only on book 4. They are still trying to impress me...

How fascinating that with so many mysteries under your belt, surprises with the writing process itself still surface. That's very cool to hear, although in this case the "surprises" required lots of extra work from you.

Darrell James said...

I always set out to thrill myself with my story as I write it. If it wasn't for surprises I don't think there'd be much of a thrill. I hope that never changes.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Some books come together quickly; some prove difficu8lt. I can never predict which, and I'm often surprised! I'm glad you persevered.

Cricket McRae said...

Ah, so you're a fellow sufferer, Lois!

Vicki, sometimes I still wonder if I know what the heck I'm doing...

I hope it never changes, either, Darrell.

Ain't it the truth, Kathleen! Thanks for the encouragement. : )

Jess Lourey said...

Cricket, we always seem to be on the same wavelength. You need to post more often so I don't feel so crazy all the time. It's all on you, sister.

Can't wait to read the latest.

Dru said...

Cricket, love the post topic and yes I've read books where I kept shaking my head saying that's not how they act.

Looking forward to reading A Deadly Row to Hoe.

Linda Hull said...

I swear my characters stand behind me, look over my shoulder and laugh--particularly over dialogue. Just have me committed now.

Cricket McRae said...

Jess, you have no idea how often your fb posts, etc have encouraged me (lurker here!). I'm glad if I can offer even the tiniest return!

Thanks, Dru Ann. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Linda, let's just call that a sign of genius and leave it at that. ; )