When Characters Speak

Anyone who’s read my longer works is likely well aware of my penchant for, shall we say, raunchier material. Admittedly, writing sex is a relaxing outlet for me. It puts me in touch with my characters in ways unmatched by any other technique I’ve yet found. But, like in real life, sex isn’t all about the sex, but about what we learn from it.

A few months ago, while I was in the middle of editing, I really wanted to write a sex scene. There’s just something very visceral about the experience of writing two people engaged in the physical act. So, I wrote one, using the characters from my “Finding Mister Wright” universe. At the time, I enjoyed the process: it helped me loose some of my writing energies, and that got me back on-track with the very different chore of editing a long work. But, recently, I went back and read that scene and had a new reaction to it.

I didn’t like it.

I found the progression and action passable, and I liked the ending, but the middle section – the actual sex scene – didn’t sit right with me. I realized it was because it wasn’t true to those characters. I’d forced them into a situation that served my own purposes but didn’t speak from their hearts. And I felt like it showed.

So, I rewrote it. I had to. For them. It’s not like anybody’s going to read the story, but I was compelled to re-imagine and re-do that interaction regardless, because I felt like I wasn’t being true to those characters otherwise. And – and this is going to sound weird and crazy – it felt like they approved. They flowed so much more naturally on the page, with their words and actions, it was like they were speaking not just to me but through me. I often feel my characters’ influence while I’m in the middle of writing a story, but rarely after the fact. That’s how I knew I’d messed up with them. Luckily, they’re generally an easy and forgiving bunch.

I guess the moral of this lesson is that writing is just as much about listening to a story – your characters’ story – as it is about telling it.

EDIT: For anyone interested in reading the story in question, I’m sharing it here as PDF media, which will open in a new window by clicking the link below. Please note that this scene involves two people engaging in sexual situations described in fair detail. Their story tends to run sappy and silly, but if you are at all uncomfortable with or offended by sex, please do not click the link for “Mirror, Mirror,” A “Finding Mister Wright” pre-fic.

Five Sentence Fiction: "Strangers"

Usually, I reserve my Saturday post space for discussion of the process of writing. But, this week, I had to try my hand at Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction, since I saw the prompt was NIGHT (2012 August 16).

Five sentences is a tricky target to tell a story. It would be relatively easy for me to craft a piece that just used semicolons anywhere there could be a period…but that’s not really how the semicolon should work. (“Don’t think of a semicolon as a strong comma,” says editor Theresa Stevens. “Think of it as a weak period.”) Thus, I wanted to use the semicolon sparingly, yet still create something fresh, and still hold to the rule of five sentences.

This one is quite flirty, though I should think not quite NSFW-worthy. As always, though, I leave you to be the judge.

“Strangers”

He’d never been propositioned in a club before (he’d never been in a club before), but the reward for such daring…! She was as he’d never known: wild, wanton, full of eager lust; the kisses started the minute they’d left the pounding, primal rhythms behind, only to be reprised -more rhythmic, more primal- not long after, in their sparse Whitechapel hotel room.

The bells tolled three before she was finally satisfied, and, while exhausting, it was wonderful.

With morning, propriety returned, as he’d known it must. But, he’d always remember playing strangers in the night, with his bold, brilliant wife.

Clarke_Ars_Erotica_18-public-domain

Ars Erotica. One of my favorites of the bunch.

So, to sort of stay on topic, what are your feelings on the use of semicolons in prose?

Excerpt: Fearless, Chapter 7 (draft)

…[I]f the whole truth were to be known, Neville wasn’t the only one who found the ups and downs of this romance mystifying; Ross himself had trouble figuring out just what it was he was supposed to say and do for Amber, and when. Women before her hadn’t seemed at all to care about his thoughts or his feelings, just that he performed to a degree of satisfaction.

But Amber constantly pressed him for his opinion on things, even of the most mundane nature:

Which do you prefer?” she asked as they were browsing the produce at Crispin’s later in the week. “Cherry tomatoes, or plum?”

I don’t care,” he muttered, picking up one yam and trading it for another of heftier quality that he dropped into their basket.

She made a sniffing sound. “What do you mean, you don’t care?”

I mean, I don’t care,” he replied. “A tomato’s a tomato.”

They’re not all the same,” Amber insisted. “If they were, they’d all be called just ‘tomato.’ Not ‘Roma’ or ‘Campari’ or whatnot.”

He turned to her with an exasperated groan. “What does it matter? They taste essentially the same-”

Ah-ha!” she snapped, pointing her finger at him, nearly into his nose. “So you admit that they aren’t all exactly alike!”

Ross pushed her hand away from his face. “It doesn’t make a difference.”

It makes quite a bit of difference!” she told him with a nod. “If you prefer one over the other, then we should get that one, and not settle for something you don’t like as much, just because you don’t want to commit to a decision about it.”

He groaned again, and then – because there were other people about – he leaned toward her, rumbling, “I don’t care! And what’s more, I don’t understand why this rubbish is so bloody important to you!”

She paused, then straightened on her heels, feet together, and blinked. “I just want to please you,” she said from between half-closed lips, her soft-spoken response quieting and humbling him instantly.

So he stood back again and felt his shoulders slope, as he let go a low breath. The honest, trenchant look on her face was so precious that he relaxed, and he was struck by a now-familiar surge of affection for her. He smiled then, and told her, softly:

Cherry.”

She smiled back at him. Then she reached out and with one deft, quick stroke of her hand she stole one of the tiny tomatoes from their wooden case, and rose on her toes to pop it quickly into his mouth. And the sudden burst of sweet juice between his lips then was as nothing compared to the sweetness of her kisses later that same day, when they were back at the loft, clutching tightly to each other as she bounced up and down in his lap.

This lead-in has some light-hearted happiness to it, but there’s also a touch of conflict, if you look. Lovers experience a whole gamut of emotions when they’re courting, not all of it dealing with the sexual side of things.

In some stories, characters fall in love and that’s their story. I almost never end with just that, though. Because real love is about so much more than physical attraction or mutual affection. It’s also about the growth of trust and honesty, the overcoming of fear and uncertainty. Sometimes, love occurs from huge leaps of faith. And sometimes, love happens in the little moments. I like examining both, because I think that both are very real.

As a love story, Fearless doesn’t have any gargantuan revelations or crescendos of thrills. It’s more about people learning about themselves and about each other. It’s quiet and gentle, but I’m also hoping that it is honest, too. Because that’s what I like in the stories that I read.

Praise for "Adaptation"

“Adaptation” is a short Doctor Wholite story I wrote for the one-off characters of Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale, as presented in the television series episode “Blink” (Series 3, episode 10).

"When Larry Met Sally"

Nothing like a romantic little one-off, eh?

I fell in love with this pairing almost immediately, and I’ve written about them more than once. “Adaptation” was my attempt at drawing parallels between classic literature and personal relationships.

It’s not often that readers entirely “get” what I’m trying to do with my stories…but, sometimes (occasionally; rarely), a sharp, clever reader will absolutely nail it. The feeling of elation I get when that happens can last me for days.

Reader Rokesmith wrote:

This is my favourite of your Songbirds stories. It says such wonderful things about these two incidental characters and the relationship that sadly we only got a glimpse of. But mainly, I like it for what it says about relationships, Sally’s slow uncovering of Larry’s deep rooted insecurities about how an introverted geek is supposed to maintain a relationship with a bright, beautiful girl with whom he shares very few interests. This is something I imagine a lot of geeks find themselves confronted with in relationships at some stage, which is why the resolution is so touching: Sally’s gentle but inescapable affirmation that no matter what their differences in interests and dreams, they love each other and that’s what’s important. And it’s all brilliantly tied together by a comparison to ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that fits so well with Sally herself. A perfect meeting of Doctor Who, classic literature and compelling romance, which is everything this pair should be.

Of all of my fan fiction outings, I think I love my Songbirds series the best. It’s not nearly the most popular, either for the pairing or in general, but the stories are very simply about two people romantically entwined. There’s no grand adventure they undertake, beyond that of life and love. Though, in some ways, that’s the best adventure of them all.

Excerpt: Fearless, Chapter 6 (draft)

The prelude to a bit of smuffy sex for my hero, in Chapter 6. What would a romance be, without it?

Ross took her hand with a rippling chuckle, pulling himself to his feet with her as anchor. He stood above her then, their hips and chests touching, and he dropped his head, his mouth seeking and finding hers for a kiss that began as just a delicate brush of lips but then, inevitably, became a heated exchange of passions as they wrapped their arms around each other once more. And while they must have made their way back to the shop, and they must have told Neville something when they arrived, and they must have walked up the rear steps to the eaves loft above the showroom, Ross couldn’t have said later how they did any of it. All he knew was Amber: the eager clutch of her slender fingers, the wanting clasp of her supple lips, and the raring flare of his desire as he held her to him.

Many thanks to those of you who have given these excerpts or the posted draft chapters a read (notably zer0-damage, Shade the Raven, fivereflections, thespooneytoaster, and Electric Monk); your support has been thoughtful, inspiring, and engaging, and I couldn’t have made it even this far without it.

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