Finishing Books and Listening to Your Characters


Coming this summer

On March 5th, I finished The Black Wasp, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, and I’m astounded by the direction these books have taken. This is in so small part due to the Black Wasp herself – a character who showed up in the middle of the previous book, The Silver Dagger.

I can still remember the moment she made her first appearance. I was in the midst of writing a scene that had nothing to do with strange, ancient women in old-fashioned mourning clothes, but there she was, all white-faced and creepy-eyed, waiting to be written. I put her off at first because I knew she’d do exactly what she did – which was forever alter the DNA of this series – but eventually, I could ignore her no longer. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Unlike the other supernatural creatures in Crimson Cove, she’s not a vampire – not in the usual sense, anyway – but something much darker, much deadlier. While she does feed on humans, it isn’t blood their that satiates her, but their fear and pain. In that respect, I suppose she’s a kind of “psychic vampire,” though I never refer to her as that in the book. She’s a different species altogether, her own kind of monster – a monster that’s opened new doors of possibility for the story arc and added deeper layers of intrigue (and terror) to my fictional world. Figuring her out has been one of the creative highlights of my writing life, and I still have a lot to learn about her.

I love it when characters feel this alive because early in my writing career, I was advised – by someone who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about – to never let the the characters guide the plot. Not knowing any better (and to my own detriment) I followed that advice, and my writing – when it came at all – suffered badly for it.

I nearly gave the up entirely more than once, but eventually, I heard someone say that writers should listen to their characters, and decided to give that a try … and that’s when my fictional world flourished and my plots gained real ambition.

It undoubtedly sounds crazy to non-writers (and probably to some writers as well, depending on their own processes) to say that the characters know what’s best, that it’s the author’s job is to transcribe more than actually invent the story, but – in my case, at least – it’s the absolute truth. Had I ignored the promptings of the Black Wasp character, the Crimson Cove series wouldn’t be taking the turns it is – and I love where it’s going.

The same thing happened in the first book, The Crimson Corset, with Gretchen VanTreese. It’s pretty hard to believe now that my central antagonist was originally intended to die in her first and only scene, but she was. Somehow, though, by that mysterious process of creation, things changed along the way, taking on an entirely new and unexpected shape. Without Gretchen, this series would be something entirely different. Assuming it existed at all, it certainly wouldn’t be the story I currently know and love.

And this is why I use every opportunity to tell new writers to a) trust their characters, and b) be very selective about what advice they follow. Every writer has their own process which needs to be discovered organically, and the only way to do that is to write. And write and write and write.

So keep writing …

And always, always listen to your characters.

P.S. The Black Wasp is currently with the editors and should be out sometime in early-to-mid summer.

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