Follow the Story
by Marie Lavender
Like any other writer, the muse speaks to me and I must listen to it. People joke now and then about hearing voices in their heads (because in most cases that’s a bad thing, right?), but for writers it’s a typical day. We pay attention to the call of the muse, or the voices of our characters bugging us to keep telling their stories. For a nonfiction writer, I imagine it’s the pull of the topic itself that drives him or her.
I’ve always done my best to honor my characters and the original vision for the story, while keeping an open mind for when a character decides to change things on me. Many times, I’ve been just as surprised as the readers. And I relish that moment because even though it may be somewhat inconvenient at the time, it makes for a better story.
Let’s start at the beginning of my publishing journey. It was 2002. I was a sophomore in college (OMG! Am I showing my age?), and I was going through my first romantic relationship. Don’t judge; seriously, I was a late starter! Anyway, this was a case of the bad boy who’s really no good for the girl. So, the turbulent emotions of that romance fed into my subconscious. At least, that’s what I believe now. And while I was waiting for a friend to come out of her doctor’s appointment, I sat in the parking lot and scribbled on my notepad. Suddenly, a scene played out in my head. An argument between the hero and heroine popped on the page in full detail – colors, emotions, the room they were in, the sounds of the harbor nearby – and this cathartic release occurred. I was pouring my rampant feelings into my work (writers often do this, and most of the time they’re not even aware of it), and I didn’t feel so alone then. There was this historical romance I could focus on, and maybe my crazy relationship would resolve itself. Okay, it didn’t, but eventually ended months and months later, as most first loves that are so wrong for you often do. But I digress.
That novel became Upon Your Return, a Victorian maritime romance set in France. Sure, the book took me nine years to finish, but it became a big part of my life, so much so that I still mourn all of my characters in the Heiresses in Love Series, though I know they’ve moved on to bigger and better things. What I really want to point out is I followed the stories, no matter what the critical side of me wanted to say. I’d advise that you try to quiet that internal editor until well after the story is written. You’ll likely thank yourself for it. While writing Upon Your Honor, the second book in the series, I worried a little about how there weren’t many sex scenes, as opposed to other historical romance novels I’d read. But soon I figured out that it was meant to be; I was only honoring my characters, as well as the events that kept getting in the way of their physical relationship. It was quite a different situation when I wrote the third and final book, Upon Your Love. What I encountered then were other characters that strived to keep me up at night, demanding that I tell their stories too. Eventually, to get them to shut up, I forced myself to listen. Surprisingly, that helped, and it worked out perfectly. UYL became a full-length novel, not only a historical romance, but a family saga. Something far different from what I’d written before. And I’m so glad I opened my heart to all those characters.
It took me a moment to reply, Dude, it’s fiction. Click To Tweet
Let’s see…what other obstacles have I encountered in my writing? Ah, yes. Magick & Moonlight, a lighthearted romantic fantasy, came to me just after I received the book contract for Upon Your Return. This emotional, yet fun and brief tale about a witch who cannot allow anyone to know about her powers was well-received. Except for the occasional critic on a forum, of course. I was called a devil worshipper there! The same was said about my vampire romance, Second Nature, though. Aghast at this response, it took me a moment to reply, “Dude, it’s fiction.” But seriously, I had a lot of fun writing the novella, and learned all kinds of stuff about the Wiccan religion (which, believe me, has nothing to do with Satan). The second book in the series, A Little Magick (a short, children’s fantasy), actually surprised me when it materialized in my head not too long after the first book was released. And all this after I swore there wouldn’t be a sequel! I bit my own words, and learned never to plan that far in advance. The muse always wins.
In any case, I had some misgivings about approaching a book for kids. I mean, geez, what do I know about writing children’s stories? Even though I’d taken a children’s literature class in college, I was still on the fence. Then a friend offered some wonderful advice. “Think about yourself as a kid. Just use your imagination!” And voilà! There was a whimsical little story about a girl who struggles to figure out these new powers, which are both scary and far too tempting. Yeah, I had a blast writing that one. Still, I followed both stories the best way I knew how. I look forward to tackling the third and final book of the Magick trilogy, Magick Sunrise, next year. I implemented the same advice about using my imagination when I wrote Blue Vision, a sci-fi romance and book one of the Code of Endhivar Series, last year.
How do other books tie into this idea about honoring one’s characters, as well as a story’s vision? Well, a little over two years ago, I worked on a tale titled Second Chance Heart. Knowing some romance readers hate to see cheating happen in novels, I was a little hesitant to finish writing it at first. The story was about a woman who runs into her ex while she’s on a business trip. Unfortunately, he’s the man who broke her heart long ago. Still dealing with his past betrayal, it’s tough for her to see that he has changed. But I forged ahead, curious to find out if someone really could forgive something that bad. The book was well-received, though, and I found that following the story can never steer you wrong.
I encountered the same idea this year as I was writing Directions of the Heart, a modern romantic drama collection which will be released in late July. The four novellas in the book span a wide range of plots, but also various emotions the characters must deal with. In the past, I’d approached sensitive topics more delicately, but with this project I faced a new challenge. In order to honor my characters, I’d have to dig much, much deeper. Certain parts of the book were uncomfortable to write, but after re-reading it, I realized how necessary they were to accurately describe what each character was experiencing. Looking back, I don’t regret a moment of it. I fell in love with those characters, and I hope readers do too.
But I have a lot of other books. These were just a few examples of obstacles I encountered, and how sticking with the characters and story brought me to where I am today. This actually brings to mind a Natalie Goldberg quote that I truly swear by:
“If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.”
She’s a genius, right?
I’ll put this into perspective. Let’s say you’re writing a book. Would you want a publisher to approach you and say, “Hey, no problem. I really like your story’s premise, but you gotta scrap the whole thing and rewrite it. We’re only accepting a certain kind of book.” What?! Of course you’re going to freak out. On a side note, I don’t like the term ‘rewrite’ when it comes to a writing project. It implies that none of what you wrote is salvageable. So, when necessary, I ‘revise, revise, revise’. But, you wouldn’t rewrite your whole book, right? Of course not. It has enormous potential.
So, you have to ask yourself a few important questions. At what point does self-directed censorship sacrifice my story? If I ignore my characters and force them to do what I want, who am I hurting?
Remember that moment when you began writing? The joy of it all? Slow down and go back to that. Never forget why you began this process in the first place.
Look, not everyone is going to love your book. That’s a lot to expect. But, a certain audience is out there for every story. I guarantee, however, that you’re going to come out with a cleaner conscience by honoring your characters and your story’s vision than by writing whatever is the standard these days.
Write the book first. You can worry about where it fits later. Follow the story, and just see what happens. Encounter new worlds, and on the way learn everything you can. I bet you’ll be surprised where it takes you.
Meet Marie Lavender
Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Mystery Blogger Award for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors. Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, dramatic fiction, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Bloodat First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.