My ongoing story that I'm writing only on Wednesdays is having a bit of a turn with me. Why? I am thinking about a character. One who is not as clear to me as Delainey and her Aunt Nancy. Their little vignettes were easy to write. They were films in my head. All I had to do was try to make sense of the pictures and speech when I wrote it on the page. But Delainey's brother Michael is another story. He's a shadow. A mystery. I know he's 33. He's in the marines. He's on a tour of duty. I've caught snatches of his life overseas. Heat, bombs, sound, action, smoke, carrying his gun, fighting someone in a bar who uses the word "retard" to describe a slower dude in the barracks. I see his pride and I have a vague sense of why he comes home. I also have a pretty good feeling that he's going to meet an amazing woman when he returns.
But he is cagey. Lately all my men have been very reluctant to expose their hearts to me. As I look at one of my earlier books (one I am revising for kicks and giggles because it really shows a lot of promise despite the level of the writing), I realize that back then, my dude really opened up. The heroine was not as strong, but he was so emotional it was ridiculous. Now don't get me wrong, I love him. He's a great guy, but he was too female in his thinking. Let's face it, I'm a girl. I bleed onto the pages. I am in all my characters at some level. My heart drives the characters' hearts. I have learned in writing the fourth book that my heart is vested, very vested, in my heroine. This allows my hero to be who he needs to be without me making him carry female angst. Good lesson to learn.
But oh, is this guy Michael ever driving me batty. I've tried talking to him. He's not spilling. So far in my interviews I've asked him why he won't come home when his dad is dying. He's not telling me. No way. I know there is a history. An anger. But it's not because of Delainey. I don't feel anger about his sister or frustration. I believe it is tied to something bigger. Perhaps the expectation his father placed on him as the boy. Or the loss of his mother affecting and driving his decisions. Maybe he wasn't there. Maybe he feels guilt. But so far, nothing. And the thing is, I don't want to force my character to fit into what I WANT him to do. I want him to open up to me so he can drive the story.
I learned the hard way that plot is an external driver, the spine, of the story, but the characters can't just be jumping through hoops because of the external world. They must be the story. Period. How they respond to the events comes from within themselves. So I've been waiting for Michael to open up to me.
Here are some free form questions and I warn you now, the grammar will NOT matter during this phase of the blog. The point is to listen to my characters, not write perfect prose (which will never happen with me anyway, ask my CP).
Michael, tell me about your sister. What is your favorite memory with her? I remember when she was about 8 we went to the fair. Dad was so proud. I remember her riding on his shoulders and mom had entered her pies. She won. With Delainey's favorite flavor. I was 16. I didn't really want to be with my family you know. I didn't want to hang out with them. My friends, Jack and Sam, were in the dunking booth and I wanted to knock them down into the water then go grab a corn dog and hang out with my friends. What 16 year old boy hangs out with his dad and mom at the fair? But Dad wouldn't hear of it. He was determined that we were going to enjoy the entire fair together. He thought I was ashamed of Delainey, but I wasn't. I just wanted to be with my friends. Delainey heard me fighting with Dad. She came over to me and put her hand in mine. Then she looked up at me and at dad and said she didn't like fights.
Oh come on Michael. Now you're so not telling me the truth. That is the most cliched thing I have ever heard. What is your favorite memory? And don't give me this fair crap. I don't buy it.
Fine. It's too stupid, but if you insist. She was 10 and I was 18. We have this big tree out back. in the yard. she was playing underneath it. the sun was out. it was spring. i was getting ready to graduate and go to college. leave. but there she was, playing in the grass with her barbies and her dolls. she was playing house. I remember her calling me over to play house with her. i was the daddy and she was the mommy. she had her dolls lined up on blankets, old cloth diapers and rags really, but they were beds to Delainey. She looked at me with those blue eyes of hers. So sweet. she's always been so innocent and sweet. And she said she couldn't wait to be a mother one day.
How the heck is this your favorite memory? This sounds maudlin at best. okay i admit it. i'm just joshing you. here's the deal. it's not that big of a deal but it's our deal. bubbles. she likes bubbles. and she likes blowing them and letting me run and catch them. she's always loved bubbles. and when she blows them she likes me to dance in them and sing--do not laugh--tiny bubbles you know like tiny tim? any way. i love making her laugh and giggle and that's her favorite way. so i guess my favorite memory with delainey is her favorite memory too.
i wonder if delainey still loves blowing bubbles. she's 25 now. a grown woman. i wonder if she's happy.
why don't you go home. see her. see your dad? I don't want to talk about it.
there's no one to dance in the bubbles for her now, michael. doesn't that bother you? aren't you the least bit curious to see what kind of woman your sister has become?
how can she be a woman. she's a child in a woman's body. she'll never have her own babies, never be loved, never have a family.
you're her family.
i'm her brother. and i'm a shit one at best. i'm no good to her.
well you may be all she has.
that's dad's fault. he never wanted to give her the opportunity to learn to be independent. not really. sure he had her helping around the house, the farm, like we all did, but when the counselor at her school suggested delainey go to to this cool group home, he said no. it was our duty to look after her. and that just pisses me off. she could be working at the store, making her friends, and instead she has only aunt nancy and dad. he didn't think. he didn't plan for when mom and he were gone.
when did the counselor suggest it? after mom died. i asked dad to get help. but he was too damn stubborn to listen to anyone.
maybe he was too hurt. grieving himself.
doesn't matter. now what will delainey do? i can't raise her. hell the only life i know is war, fighting, men. i'm not good for delainey anymore.
you don't have to raise her. go home, Michael. face your dad. give delainey what she deserves.
so is that why you're angry? yes dammit. he held her back. now it might be too late to give her the world she deserves.
it's never too late, michael. go home. maybe you'll find a way to give your sister a chance at a new life. your aunt needs you. and your dad needs to see you. to find closure with you.
what then? maybe then you'll discover love. build your own family.
Michael's talking. But I still don't think he's opened up completely. I will have to sit down with him again. I'm not sure I'm buying everything he's saying. But I do believe he loves Delainey and wants what is best for her. I think Delainey will find a way to reach him across that vast ocean. The question is how?
How will Delainey crack through his armor?