What Happens When I Fall in Love With One of My Characters

So, this may not be a problem most people contend with, I admit. Maybe I should seek some sort of professional opinion, because I do encounter this issue time and again when I am writing – I tend to fall in love with men I write about. Is it a phenomenon common to writers? Am I crazy in a vaguely narcissistic way? I am not sure – but this has happened to me since I first began writing as a little girl. In those days if the weather was warm, you could bet on finding me curled on the ragged lawn chair I’d dragged under the overgrown and under-tended lilac bushes that grew in the yard of my childhood home. There I would hide out with my college-ruled notebook and a couple of pencils (no computers in those days, at least not in our house) and alternately chew pencil erasers to bits, staring at the slice of sky visible through the lilac boughs, and write in bouts of exhilarated frenzy, overtaken by story after story. And those stories were so very real to me it was nearly painful. I heard and saw those characters as though the action took place a few feet from my nose rather than in my imagination, ached at their sorrows, rejoiced in their triumphs, and despaired when the story ran wildly astray from the original path. And many a time people have asked me (with pauses just like this), “But…don’t you control what they do? Umm…you’re the one writing the story, aren’t you…”

How to explain that it doesn’t always work this way? I honestly have no reasonable explanation for this – but stories really do tell themselves, at some level. Characters pop into the action without warning, and often do not behave. And by that I mean they literally won’t say or do what you (the writer) want them to do and say – they insist upon telling their own story. One of the main reasons I enjoy writing so much is because I want to find out what happens next, too. I write just to get back to my characters and their interactions, to discover what’s over the next horizon. Seriously, it’s weird.

My first attempt at a novel was called The Great West – and the young man/love interest for my main character who appeared without notice around the fifth chapter claimed my heart from the moment he “spoke.” I could picture him so well – surely an amalgamation of all the boys I crushed on in those days, with the sort of confident (but not arrogant), capable attitude I admire so well in real men. Even now, many years beyond those childhood days, I still tend to get all woozy in the stomach – you know, that feeling that overwhelms you when you’re poised at the top of a very steep roller coaster hill, about to plunge into open space and all caution be damned, because you don’t give a shit about caution when you’re riding a roller coaster or falling in love – creating male leads for my lucky protagonists. I write romance, amongst other genres, and romance will always claim a solid handhold in my heart. My favorite scenes to write are often the ones that occur between men and women – I love the tension-building, the steamy heat of rapid-fire dialogue, the eventual coming together of two characters who are absolutely dying for each other – the sort of scene that fogs up my computer screen.

Just now I am deep into book three of my historical romance series, a novel with narrating duties shared by a woman and a man. And I have been thoroughly enjoying writing from a man’s perspective (note – I am not claiming to be any expert; rather, I’m taking it a scene at a time and relying heavily on my wild imagination). It’s a first-person narrative, which is an additional challenge, as I get to explore his very thoughts. It’s a creative writing exercise taken to the extreme. And I am the first to admit, I am kinda, sorta head over heels for him. I know it’s strange. Probably even a little crazy. But I adore him – I love relating his story in his words – honestly, he does tell me the story and I just type it. I can hear his voice, his laugh, see his hands as they grip his horse’s reins, feel his shoulders shift as he moves. I walk in his boots as I write, and I relish this experience. I learn more about him every time I sit down to write – his past, his desires, his fears and hopes for the future. He is currently in a great deal of danger, and so I am anxious to get back to the action and pick up the story where we last left it, on the plains of Dakota Territory, at the base of a tree where the hanging of a horse thief is about to take place.

I love being a writer – I just plain love it. At least I admit to the craziness. And here’s to the story process – may it never stop unfolding. 😉

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