By Henry McLaughlin
I find myself in a bit of a transition in my writing right now. A while back, my weekly writing group challenged me to write a fantasy novel. (I love you, Solitary Scribes.) My agent at the time said I’d have to come up with a pen name because it’s such a genre switch. I’m thinking CS Tolkien might work. Or Tim Dekker. Or Johnny C. Jenkins.
Part of the challenge I set for myself-I really can’t blame my group for this-is to write it organically as Steven James calls it. So, yeah, he gets some of the blame/credit for this too.
For years, I practiced and preached using a detailed outline. I would spend weeks writing an outline before I ever typed “Chapter One.” Along with the outline would be days of detailed character development. Questionnaires, psychological profiles, interviews with the character, histories. Physical descriptions. As much detail as I could develop. I wanted to know these characters inside and out.
When I started organic writing, all this character detail didn’t seem as important. I knew my hero’s role, kind of knew what he looked like, knew his story goal. I had an idea of his internal core values and how they would conflict over the story. I was comfortable with him and he seemed comfortable with me. I knew more of him would be revealed as the story went along, more depth, more complexity.
As the story moves along, seeds are sprouting about a romantic relationship between my hero and heroine. Seems to have a good pace, good tension. The attraction is mutual but there are issues which threaten to keep them apart. Like he’s twenty years older than her and she’s religious and he hates religion in every form.
And then-feels like there should be dramatic music here-he meets a woman he hasn’t seen in eleven years. I knew she was in the story and they would reconnect. As he talks with her and I see her through his eyes (I’m also writing a first person POV for the first time), he gets all mushy. And I realize-he’s still in love with her. Very much in love with her.
I’ve never had a character throw this big a curveball at me. When I asked him about this, he shrugged. I asked what about him and the heroine and their relationship. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “You’ll figure it out.”
I can’t wait to see where this takes us.
What is the most surprising thing a character has done to you? How did you handle it?
Henry McLaughlin’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. He serves as Associate Director of North Texas Christian Writers. Besides writing fiction, Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.