When You and Your Story Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Having a love affair with one's own writing is a key factor within the thrill of creating. What writer doesn't adore that first incredible rush—that dopamine high—when the seed of a story pops effortlessly into their imagination? Through that flash 'look of love', one envisions their main character with all their seemingly hopeless conflicts and happy resolutions whirling about them like a glorious snowfall in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The positive illusion of it all is overwhelming. Within minutes, your attractive lead characters are sharing their first kiss, and everything is beautiful.
But then, like with any relationship that has to grow in order to work, reality sets in.
After completing a historical fiction and, most recently, a genre crossing rewrite of a Nathaniel Hawthorne piece, I thought I'd try my hand at a warmhearted romantic comedy. How hard could that be? I asked myself. Romance sells. It's one of the few art forms created primarily by women, and therefore speaks to women. I'm a seasoned woman who, like many others, has experienced the highs and lows of love. How marvelous. This is a cinch.
Months later, I'm here to tell you that—at least for me—the romance is gone.
There are reasons, of course. Remarkably, the first five chapters of my story poured themselves onto the page. My lead character landed in a perfect setting. She had a unique conflict on her hands and a cleverly contrived method to resolve it. Yes, there would be obstacles to her plan. That's where the comedy came in. I gave her two very different, but well-rounded men to cope with and decide between. She had wonderful friends—real, true-to-life friends many readers would recognize and already cherish in their own lives. It was all so perfect until I realized, with a heart-stabbing sense of despair, that I couldn't get past chapter five. Those first eighty-four pages, which had magically written themselves, were pretty much all I had to give.
Like any lost romantic would do when a breakup loomed near, I tried to hold it all together. I gave my lead gal a catchier name, an upscale look, and an improved career. I meticulously switched the point of view from third person to first, giving my main character what I believed to be her own voice. I re-thought and rewrote those first five chapters seven times, trusting they would inspire more. They never did. Much like any stunned lover on the 'losing side', I was working way too hard to save something that was going nowhere. Now, at long last, I've come to the conclusion why.
I had no idea who my main character really was. In my mind, she had appeared 'romance ready', center stage in that heavenly Hallmark movie snowfall. Who was she before? How did she get to where she was on page one? And more importantly, why did she want to make a change in her life? My relationship with my leading character was one-sided from the start. I expected too much from someone I didn't know.
I mourned this realization. I mourned it hard with chips and chocolate and wine. Agonizing over a work one has spent countless hours on is necessary. Grief has to crawl in and clear one's mind for hopefulness. As with many writers who finally see that glaring wall, I'm going to take a tearful step back and focus my creative energy and passion on another project. It won't be easy. First novels are like first loves. One never truly forgets them.
So, perhaps the title of this post is a little too strong—a tad too final. My lead and I might get back together. There is, after all, an entire cast of wonderful characters ready to welcome us both back with open arms. It just won't happen now. And that's all good.