When I started writing Creative Woman Seeking Freelance Work, Stella—my hero and the heroine of my novel—walked into my life unexpectedly and in a bookstore of all places. I was standing in line at the in-house java bistro when she whispered in my ear.
“I’m Stella Delray. I have a story.”
“Can I help you, miss?” The woman behind the counter asked me.
“Coffee, no room for cream and thanks.”
I shook myself as if the physical act would wake me from my dream like state long enough to respond with my order without breaking the spell. I hoped Stella would tell me more. She did not. She stood there in the cloud watching me. For the next week or so, it was she and I alone in my head. She said nothing. I was new at writing stories back then and hadn’t quite figured out how I worked. My writer self didn’t come with an instruction manual.
I knew Stella was unlike the others I had imagined. She was too important to let slip through my fingers but I hadn’t a clue how to make her talk.
I wrote her name repeatedly waiting for a sign. None came.
I’d like to say in a flash of brilliance I knew what to do, but in truth, it was only when the first line came to me that I could begin the dialogue with Stella.
My pink telephone is vibrating again. The highlighter pink phone clashes with the rose-white made to look vintage desk pushed into the corner of my bedroom. Hanging on the wall directly above the monitor is the watercolor I bought with Bobby when we were in London, it’s called The Blue Door.
Of course, being a virgin novelist I didn’t realize it’s the lines between the first and the last that would cause me to lose sleep, stare at the wall, talk to myself, wake at 3AM, and scribble on the backs of receipts.
Somewhere around page fifty—I wrote those first fifty pages four times and first line about hundred—Stella suggested in a whispered voice:
How can you tell my story if you don’t know anything about me?
She had me there. I hadn’t a clue who she was. Here was another lesson I hadn’t yet learned. Giving your character’s depth and dimension isn’t as easy naming them and giving them physical attributes. And they’re all different. What works with one doesn’t necessarily work for all.
With Stella, it was lines of verse. I had never written a poem—EVER as in never in my life—and with her I found myself writing lines of verse. And, oh my sweet celestial beings, those first attempts at poetry were horrible, but damn if I could stop myself from writing them down. It would turn out pushing myself through this process was my road to Stella. It’s wasn’t just Stella who needed me to learn, but also, Bobby, her dead husband, a singer-songwriter. For him I had to write song lyrics.
Finding the voice of your character isn’t always a straight forward path. As I work on a new WIP and become acquainted with Rosa, my new heroine, I find her revealing herself to me through her connection with cooking. I wonder what I will learn on this journey.
The first line of Stella’s story (written101 times, at least):
For two years, give or take a week or three, I’ve carried my dead husband’s ashes around with me. He goes where I go. It wasn’t planned, but then these sorts of things never are. Momentary craziness just happens.
Have you ever been surprised by the results when you stepped outside of your comfort zone? What did you learn?