Friday, May 4, 2012

That voice in my head is getting louder...

by Amanda Stevens

A character named Lucy November has haunted me for years. She’s become so real that a writer friend claims she sees Lucy sitting cross-legged in an empty room, impatiently drumming her fingers on the floor as she waits for me to give her a story. Actually, she has a story—a whole book, in fact—called Garden of Perpetual Slumber. That book has never been sent to a publisher, but it did help me land my current agent, who for years resided at the top of my dream agent list. Yay!

But…back to Lucy. She’s an aspiring filmmaker who moonlights as a corpse cosmetician at a boutique funeral home in Austin, Texas. By boutique, I mean the mortuary specializes in elaborate funerals and unique presentations. A little like Christopher Walken’s mortuary in Undertaking Betty but less Star Trek and more Rocky Horror, if you get my drift. Lucy also converses with the corpses. She calls herself a facilitator because she likes to think that she eases their transition to the other side.

The book has problems.  For one thing, the mystery plot is way too convoluted and for another, the reanimated corpses are nothing more than diversions. The good news is I know how to fix. I’ve tweaked Lucy’s occupation, incorporated the corpses into a simplified mystery plot and I’m integrating some mythological elements into the back story. But as excited as I am by these changes, something has been niggling at me for a while now.

Is Lucy a character whose time has come and gone?

How long should a writer cling to a character or a plot or even a premise before moving on? After all, my cemetery restorer protagonist in The Graveyard Queen series sprang fully developed from my imagination. The premise, plot, setting…everything came together seamlessly.

So what is the deal with Lucy? Am I trying too hard to make her work? Am I now so invested in this character that I’ve lost my objectivity? Has she taken on so many of my own personality traits that I’m unable to let her be who she needs to be? Have I become one of those awful stage mothers, pushing my beloved progeny into a direction she doesn’t want to go?

Just to mix things up, I’ve considered relocating her from Austin to Savannah, but a different setting would completely alter her personality. After all, she is a product of her environment. Austin is a cool, laid back city that prides itself on its weirdness. A haven for the nonconformist. A sanctuary for misfits, hipsters and aging hippies.

This is Lucy in Austin:

Savannah is old South. Deep South. The dark, eccentric, Gothic South of folk magic, Bonaventure Cemetery and John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

This is Lucy in Savannah:

See what I mean?  Two different characters.

So what do I do?  Abandon the project?  Keep trying until I find her the prefect home?  How long must I listen to Lucy's voice in my head before I tune her out forever?

What do you do when a character won't leave you alone?


Paula Millhouse said...

That's so weird, Amanda. I have a character named Ali Franklin who does the same thing to me. Thing is, she lives right next to Bonaventure cemetery in Savannah. Ali's got issues got issues with pirates and ghosts, and while I've never thought about relocating her, she hangs out too, waiting for me to get back to her.

I grew up in Savannah. Do you have a connection there too? Your post really spoke to me this morning. I worry about characters I've abandoned/ignored like that. Are they Muses trying to lure us back to their stories because the time's nearing to tell them?

Great food for thought here.


Jordan Dane said...

She sounds like she needs her freedom. I think you need to share her. I like the whole concept, but Savannah Lucy has a feel similar to the atmospheric settings I think you're brilliant at. Putting your creative touch to Austin would change how people see TX, but Savannah is steeped in history & the reader's mind is already a fertile ground of expectation for your story.

If for whatever reason this story is hard to push through NYC, you might consider introducing Lucy to readers in novella or short story teasers before you self-publishing her in a full novel. That would give you time to settle into her head again while you rework the issues. Novellas can be 28,000 words or so. Short stories can be less. These types of teasers can build interest in readers that could enhance your revamped story when it's ready for NYC, plus earn you a monthly income op.

No matter which way you go, she sounds like YOUR THING. Your readers would love her.

Welcome to ADR3, amiga. Love this post. You are such a gifted storyteller. I would love Lucy. Please share her.

Leeanna said...

Lucy sounds like quite a character. I haven't had that experience yet -- a character I couldn't let go of -- but I think that if you did set her aside for a while, that she would just come back anyway. She sounds like a strong muse, and from what you wrote, I don't think she'd like being put away!

Amanda Stevens said...

Oh, I love how you guys are talking about Lucy like she's real. I feel so at home here! :D

Paula, I don't have a physical connection to Savannah and/or Bonaventure Cemetery but I love writing about the Deep South. I'm a Southern girl through and through, and I seem to be drawn to places like Savannah and Charleston. I just love the history and the atmosphere.

Jordan, I think you hit the nail on the head. Savannah is my kind of setting, the kind of place I feel most comfortable writing about, but deep down, I think Lucy is an Austin girl. My natural voice is at war with the character and setting. It's a dilemma.

I do love your suggestion about going indie and starting with novellas and short stories to build interest. I've had that in mind for some time now. Isn't it wonderful that we have that option?

Leanna (love your name), Lucy has been with me for almost five years so I don't think she's going anywhere. :)

Jordan Dane said...

Any momentum you build thru indie would only help wherever Lucy goes. It's a WIN WIN. I love Austin too. It's practically right down the road. No matter what you decide, it will have your touch on it. Can't lose.

Jennifer Archer said...

I am instantly drawn to Austin Lucy. Seems we read about the Deep South all the time, but not so much the wonderful weirdness of Austin. Of course, I'm a Texan, so this might explain my desire that you not give up on Austin Lucy. On the other hand, I think there's a reason she refuses to leave you alone. Sometimes the stories that are the hardest to tell, end up being the best ones!

Amanda Stevens said...

Well, I just commissioned a cover and I had my daughter, the copy writer, help with the back cover copy so maybe it's time I let Lucy fly. :) You guys really helped me so thank you!!