There are two kinds of people who listen to the voices in their heads—schizophrenics and authors. Fortunately, I fall into the latter category, the group that doesn’t talk back. Or so we pretend. But the truth is, those voices in our heads belong to our characters, and whether we’re brave enough to admit it to the world beyond our writing caves, those conversations go both ways.
Our characters demand quite a lot from us, especially those of us who write mysteries. After all, we’re constantly putting them in situations filled with murder and mayhem. Is it any wonder they’re constantly interrupting our plotting to insinuate their own two cents?
My most demanding character is Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of the eponymous Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. In every book, I get to a point in the story where Anastasia goes on strike. She absolutely refuses to continue on the path I’ve laid out for her. No matter how much I try to force her into the next chapter, she won’t budge.
Have I mentioned what a royal pain in my butt she is?
This standoff leaves me no choice but to cave to her demands, especially since she always gets the backing of the rest of my characters who line up in solidarity behind her. Then they pool their resources and send my muse off on holiday.
Have I mentioned my characters play dirty?
No author wants to sit in front of a computer screen staring at a blinking cursor for hours on end, especially when deadlines are looming. My characters know this, which means I have no choice but to capitulate to their demands. Otherwise, they won’t send my muse a return-trip ticket.
With every book, Anastasia tosses a monkey wrench into my plots. “You’re taking the easy way out,” she screams. “I demand more conflict! Another red herring! One more plot twist!”
“There’s no problem with the story the way it is,” I whine.
“Wanna bet?” she asks. “Send the chapter off to your critique partner. See what she has to say.”
“Have you been speaking to her behind my back?”
She grins. “I’ll never tell.”
I wonder what my critique partner would say if I asked if she’d heard from Anastasia. Would she think I’ve gone nuts? I’ve decided it isn’t worth the risk. Anastasia is a fictional character and only a fictional character as far as she knows. Best to keep it that way (and hope she isn’t reading this!) Instead, I send off the chapter for some feedback. A few hours later her notes arrive—stating exactly what Anastasia had said.
“Fine, you win,” I say, bowing to the inevitable. “I’ll write the story your way.”
“You’ll thank me in the end,” she says.
And you know what? Darned if she isn’t right. Every single time, including recently as I was in the middle of writing Guilty as Framed, the 11th Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, now available for preorder.
USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Learn more about Lois and her books at her website, www.loiswinston.com, where you can also sign up for her newsletter and find links to her various social media sites.