I realize the public thinks of authors as desk jockeys who stare out their windows all day until a burst of genius has them rattling their keyboards. All right, so yeah, that happens. But that’s the easy part.
Maybe some authors rattle their keyboards and produce perfect prose and indelible characters and a page-turning pace setter. I’m not one of them. Actually, my bursts of genius are so slow that I tend to sit in the sun like a cat and scribble down rough drafts with pen and ink. There’s something about rocking, sun, and the pen scratching across the page that stimulates my subconscious.
But what ends up on the page is barely a sketch of the action. I used to be really bad and simply tell the story of what happens. Now, I at least include dialogue in the draft. But that’s still not a real book.
That was impressed on me recently when I decided to write a novella prequel to my Mystic Isle historical fantasy romance series. I had a brilliant notion for a foundation story, full of world-building and action. I got half way through that draft before I realized my characters were dead in the water. I should have let the earthquake kill them or the tsunami drown them. At least they would have been more sympathetic.
What I failed to do was develop those cardboard cutouts into people, people with hopes and dreams, fears, desires, and flaws. Sure, my charming, obedient people did precisely what the story called for them to do, but who cares if they save the day if they’re more interesting dead? Since killing the protagonists in a romance is frowned upon, that isn’t an option.
I hadn’t fully realized how much of my work operates on character. The protagonists are generally the air beneath my wings, the driving force that keeps the story flowing. This time, I started with concept and plot and neglected the characters. Never again!
So that story is on hold until I figure out who these ancient people are and what makes them tick. And then when I throw a tsunami at them, maybe I’ll care enough to finish their tale.
Have you read any books where the action is great, but the characters were placeholders? Did you enjoy the story anyway?