by Lynn Kelling
There’s a love affair that occurs between a romance writer and their story, and it echoes the romance itself. I’m at that point with my current writing project, Song of the Lonesome Cowboy, where I’m fully emotionally invested in the characters and the trials they endure. Even when I’m at work, running errands, or trying to sleep, part of me is still living there, in the book. I’m inside the skin of the characters and can’t quite disengage when I’m expected to.
It’s intoxicating and kind of a mind fuck, like when you first fall for someone. They’re all you can think about, fuel for daydreams and distraction. No one else quite understands why you’re acting so crazy, either, because they don’t see how wonderful the object of your affection is. The writer’s passion goes beyond the investments a reader places in characters they love, because the writer has the power to lessen or magnify the pain or pleasure of these fictional humans under their control, whereas the reader is forced to take things as they come, whether they like it or not. But, the catch is when you torment your MC, you’re also tormenting yourself. Sure, you get to play God and conjure a little universe all your own, but that universe is inside you. Destroy it and you’re the only one who gets hit with the shrapnel.
Writers are cruel lovers when it comes to their creations. There would be no story if we didn’t torture the ones we love, at least a little bit. When our characters are least expecting it, we push them right into the middle of their biggest nightmare. Then it’s our job to get them back out, somehow. It makes sense, then, that we’d be uneasy when forced to walk away, attending to real life for a while if, in the meantime, our inner world is in chaos, our fictional lovers trapped in a hell of our own making.
For me, the hardest part comes when the story is almost finished. It’s slipped from your hands, given over to proofreaders and a production team to be packaged, polished, and made ready to be given away. It feels like the ultimate betrayal as we break up with our temporary obsessions. I’m still struggling with the ability to completely let the characters go when I’m expected to. There’s always a piece of me in there, left behind, lost in the love affair. To give up control, let others claim the characters for their own, then pass judgment on them, can be heartbreaking in the same way as seeing an ex with a new lover, or letting your children go off into a world which you know will hurt them.
I mostly write in the 3rd person tense, from multiple points of view. That’s just what’s worked for me. With Song of the Lonesome Cowboy, I’m writing in 1st person from one character’s point of view. Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like it’s been even harder this time around. The main character, Tucker, whose voice I’m speaking with and whose most personal, awful, wonderful moments I’m making less sacred by displaying them to the world, haunts me. He’s a gay country music star who’s expected to perform and sell himself in a certain way to the crowds through his music. He’s a poet and a sensitive soul, but his journey is all about violations of trust, coercion and learning how to be himself while under scrutiny by prejudiced people whose instincts are to scorn him. It’s made me so protective of him. Sometimes he surprises me, too, by indulging in moments of bravery when my heart would have him take a safer route.
I’m definitely in love with Tucker. I’m doing my best to do him justice and hopefully, soon, when it’s time to let him go, there will be nothing in my heart but bittersweet pride in how far he’s come, and hope that others will treat him with respect and love him too, just as much as I do.