March Round Robin topic is: Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?
As a reader, I remember one scene, actually a chapter, that I was listening to on audio in the car on my way to a meeting. It was an action/adventure thriller – a genre filled with angst and tension. When I got to my destination, I turned off the car and headed into the building with this intense feeling that I was late and needed to hurry. But when I got there, I was actually early. At first having no idea why I was feeling this intense need to get there. Only as the adrenalin rush wore off, did I realize I’d been so drawn into the immediacy of the story that I was feeling all the same anxious pressure the characters were feeling in a life or death situation. All I could think was WOW! That was great writing.
As an author, I can only hope I can bring my readers to that kind of a precipice when they’re reading my books. I don’t write Action/Adventure, though, so my scenes aren’t going to leave my readers coming down from an adrenalin rush. As a pantser, I tend to write character driven stories, and since most of them are romance, there have been scenes that leave me drained emotionally. Some romance scenes: falling in love, making love, happy ever afters etc aren’t usually emotionally draining so much as leaving an emotional high. Either you have a wonderful world view that grows out of a satisfying romantic connection or you’re hunting for your mate and hoping you can get them as aroused as you are. But the scenes in romance that tend to leave me drained are the “Black Moments.” That crisis moment in the story when everything seems lost and your characters, and you, the author are going to get your heart broken.
In the most recent release in my Cameron’s of Tide’s Way series, my hero finds out something he feels the heroine should have told him herself, years ago, and he’s hurt and disappointed. What he started out as a conversation to find out what happened and why she hadn’t told him turns into an angry scene as his anger overcomes the hurt and any chance the heroine has to make her case. When she finally storms off, it seems like all is lost. When I finished writing that scene, I was emotionally drained and just as hurt as my hero, AND just as crushed as my heroine. I had to collect my dog and go for a walk on the beach while my emotions ebbed and the physical reactions calmed. I was surprised at the time because I hadn’t felt that bad when they said good bye all those years ago, even knowing what was going to happen to them. So, YES, there are scenes that leave me totally, emotionally drained.
My characters are very real to me. My stories are character driven so I spend a lot of time before the book even starts creating my characters, writing their backstory, learning who they are, what they like and what they hate, their favorite music and hobbies, their strengths and their faults. I know that motivates them and I know the dark things they try to hide from the world. I know what makes them vulnerable. SO, when the story finally gets underway, most of the time I never have to ask what they’d do next because I already know how they are going to react. But sometimes they surprise me. I created them and yet suddenly I find myself typing something about them I had no idea of before. Sometimes I have a plan for their story arc, and they plant their feet and defy me. They have other plans. I usually go with the flow and let them have their way. Other times I let them have their say and then we return to the plot I had in mind.
My characters are so real, I find myself sharing what’s happening to them with others, mostly other writers, but occasionally a friend or family member or even a reader. I talk about them as if they were real and the problems they are facing are real. Just like I would talk about something that happened to me, or to someone I know. My writer friends understand. My other acquaintances look at me as if I’m losing it.
But the time I know without a doubt that my characters have become real to me is when I write The End. Even on the first draft when I still have lots of editing and revising to do. I have this lost feeling like my best friend just up and moved to the other side of the country. I might email them or call them from time to time, but it will never be the same as it was while I was writing their story and they were living in my head. I know the story now, I know how it ends and they are leaving me. I miss them terribly until I begin the next book and find new friends to invest so much emotional capital in. I have a new sweatshirt that boasts in large letters across the chest: I am an author. That means I am creative, cool, passionate . . . and a little crazy. And maybe having people I’ve made up out of thin air become that real to me is a little crazy, but if it is, then I’m perfectly happy with crazy.
Want to know what other authors think?
Dr. Bob Rich