Sarah Madison Guest Post: Characters Misbehaving

Sarah Madison is here today talking about he new book Unspeakable Words!

Characters Misbehaving

I’m sure you’ve heard authors speak from time to time of characters misbehaving, refusing to cooperate, or otherwise acting like real people instead of fictional creations that can be molded at will by their creator.

I confess, the first couple of times I heard this sort of thing, I placed it in the same category as when authors referred to their Muses as being capricious beings separate from themselves: a fanciful way of saying they were stuck on a scene, or something wasn’t going the way they expected.

To be honest, I didn’t like the idea of independent Muses or recalcitrant characters. To me, the notion smacked of the writer distancing his or her self from their work in a manner that allowed for excuses over untimely delays and a lack of general accountability for the work itself. Stories didn’t just spring like Athena, fully-armored, from Zeus’s forehead, so to speak. They were the result of hard work, and anyone who suggested there were outside factors at work seemed a bit, well, juvenile.

I’ve since learned better.

While I still don’t believe in a Muse per se, I understand better now what it is like to have your creative energy sapped by external events, and how you have to push on through these sorts of things if you want to be a writer (or any sort of artist, crafter, musician, etc). The bad news about working through such low ebbs in your life is the first or second drafts in that window of time are going to be like pulling teeth with a pair of rusty pliers without Novocain, and the end result will be about as attractive. The good news is if you can learn to write under such conditions, then when things are going well, the words will flow from your keyboard almost like magic.

Difficult characters, on the other hand, I definitely believe in! I find there are two situations in which the character themselves can be uncooperative or unexpected. The first is the most common for me: I am attempting to write a scene and I just can’t make it happen. I know intuitively something is wrong, but I’m not sure what or how to fix it. I plug away at the scene, coming at it from various angles, mulling it over as I wash the dishes or walk the dogs. Or sometimes I skip it and move on, coming back to it later when I can see more clearly where the action is heading. Usually, the fix comes to me in a Eureka! type moment. Most of the time, the problem lies in that I’m trying to force a character to do something he or she wouldn’t do. As soon as I realize what the character would actually do instead, all obstacles to the scene drop away, and I can bang it out.

The other scenario happens to me less frequently, but has made a believer out of me when it comes to fictional characters taking control of the story. That is when I suddenly find myself writing a scene or an action that feels like it is coming out of left field—in other words, I never saw it coming. I hadn’t planned it or intended for it to be part of the story—it just happens. A bit like automatic writing, eh? Perhaps the answer is that we’re so inside the heads of our characters when this sort of thing occurs that the words rise up out of our subconscious.

It happened to me when I was writing the Sixth Sense series. Both John Flynn and Jerry Lee Parker have a lot of emotional baggage that have lead them to be very controlled in their personal relationships, though they deal with it in different ways. Flynn prefers to be the charmer who is never charmed himself, while Jerry is as prickly as a hedgehog and just as defensive. Their complicated relationship has evolved over the series, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when, in Walk a Mile, Flynn began showing a decided preference for a bit of dominance in his sex life. I was aghast at first. Surely I wasn’t writing this in because 50 Shades of Grey was the hot ticket in romance at the time, right? Well, no, I wasn’t. As I gave it more thought, I realized the events in Unspeakable Words created new issues for Flynn’s self-control, and new problems for him to deal with. The very nature of his ‘gift’ received in the first story made his new-found desire to be dominated make much more sense after I gave it some thought. It was the first time a character ever pulled something like that on me, however, and it really took be aback at first.

It happened again, however, in Truth and Consequences. In that book, Jerry suddenly announced he no longer wished to be called by his first name, but wanted to go by Lee instead. Now this wasn’t quite as big a shock to me because I’d never been all that fond of the name ‘Jerry’ myself. But once I saddled the character with it, I could hardly change it, right? Wrong! Jerry took the decision right out of my hands. And you know what? From a story-telling viewpoint it made perfect sense because Jerry was no longer the person he’d been in book one. He was Lee now.

So the next time you hear of characters misbehaving, nod and know that it happens. And if one of your characters acts up, trust your instincts and let them have their heads. You’ll be glad that you did.

The revised and expanded version of Unspeakable Words is available for pre-order now, and will be re-released on March 10th, 2017.

I’m currently working on the fourth and final installment in the series, tentatively titled Deal with the Devil. Current release date sometime in 2018. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the relaunch of the series, or coming to the party for the first time. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Title: Unspeakable Words (The Sixth Sense #1)
Author: Sarah Madison
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Genre(s): Paranormal, Mystery
Page Count: 201
Reviewed by: Kristin

2nd Edition

Special Agent John Flynn is everything Jerry Parker is not: dangerously handsome, coolly charismatic, and respected by his peers. Special Agent Parker is dedicated and meticulous, but his abrasive personality has given him a reputation for being difficult. When new information on a cold case appears, Parker is assigned to work with Flynn, and the sparks fly as their investigative styles clash. Contact with a strange artifact changes everything when it bestows unusual and unpredictable powers on Flynn… and the two men must learn to trust each other before a killer strikes again.

First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010.

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The Sixth Sense Series

Author Bio

Sarah Madison
Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a large dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. An amateur photographer and a former competitor in the horse sport known as eventing, when she’s not out hiking with the dogs or down at the stables, she’s at the laptop working on her next story. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 and 2015 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3 rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.

If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.

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