I didn’t want Lu to go back to New York City in the third part of the book, and once she got there, I couldn’t get her out fast enough. I think that’s why my first draft of the book fell several chapters short.
“It’s a marathon, but you ran it like a sprint,” my writing buddy told me.
Laura was right, and her feedback reminded me of my operating instructions. Lu is not a plot-driven book because its author is more interested in people vs. what happens to them.
Without good characters, my story would have diddly squat, so I developed loose rules for character development early on:
- Let my characters be unlikable – not as a whole, but certainly at times, and maybe even for extended periods of time. Lu reads hard for the first part of the book. We ultimately learn what’s shaped her perspectives and decisions, but not at the start. When we first meet people in real life, we don’t get the luxury of their back story. We just git what git and learn more over time. I wanted Lu to unfold in a similar way.
- Leave some stories unexplained – for example, Jackson’s divorce. We might want to know details – especially juicy ones – but Lu’s viewpoint drives the book. I don’t think that’s a question she’d ask, certainly not from a church standpoint, but also because I don’t think she’d ask a question she herself wouldn’t want to answer. She’s private like that. I also don’t think it’s a story Jackson would offer without a direct question. I let it lie.
- Don’t give characters equal play. Some characters in Lu are underdeveloped – the mom, in particular. I kept thinking I should write her in more, but the two grandmas kept butting in, and the amount of pages Gracie claimed took me by surprise. Could I make room for fifth female lead? By the end of the book I was too tired to try, and then I remembered this rule and felt justified in keeping her in the background. I’d like to learn more about the mom in book two, though.
- Let characters make bad choices. I don’t think Ted is a jerk, but he is to Lu in the way siblings are. John shouldn’t have cheated on Lu, and Lu should never have gone back with him, but characters, like people, don’t always behave. They sort of take over a chapter and leave you to write them out of their mess.
- Keep mum about physical qualities unless they served another purpose. This is partly a cop-out. I’m not great with descriptions of any sort. But it also goes back to my interest. When I start a chapter, I’m more curious about what a character is saying, doing, thinking, and feeling than the color her hair. Sometimes I never get around to figuring that detail out. I can’t tell you Gracie’s.
- Throw characters some gimmes. Some things have to go well some of the time. This describes the middle section of Lu. We needed a breather between New York & New York, so I gave her the promise of a career and relationship. I remember my editor questioning me on how fast her social media was taking off. Was this realistic? Probably not, I responded, but the girl (and her readers) needed a break before Round 2. The writer, too, because remember – I didn’t want Lu to go back to New York City.