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Spooky Little Lines, by Lynn Viehl
Most days writing novels is like any regular job. Like millions of other workers, I go to my office, turn on the
computer and get to work. I follow a work schedule and plan when I write. I even use the same methods to write, which is basically to review the plan, visualize the scene from start to finish and then type – nothing really magical there. Most days I can usually knock out at least two scenes; sometimes I manage an entire chapter. It’s all very ordinary.
Until the days when it isn’t, and my job gets a little spooky.
Like last spring, when I was finishing up my latest release, Frostfire. One morning I started writing a chapter where my two protagonists ended up alone in a motel room. According to plan they needed to resolve some issues, make love, and then get some rest. Not an especially tough scene to write.
I should mention one of my writing quirks: I don’t plan any dialogue ahead of time. I compose it spontaneously as I’m writing, and for some reason this approach works for me.
That morning I began writing with my characters ready to resolve their issues, and my protagonist Lilah talked about her mother. Mom was rich, powerful and admired, but she refused to love Lilah or anyone (even herself.) Lilah was determined not to end up like her mother, so she wasn’t afraid of loving Walker, my other protagonist. Even though Walker was angry, bitter and (at times) a little scary, he was the man she loved, and she wasn’t going to run away from him.
A life devoid of love is simply not worth living – Lilah knew this, I knew this; it was all good.
Once Lilah finished talking, Walker was to agree with her, declare his love (which he’d been fighting tooth and nail for ten chapters) and we would move on to the more interesting things they had to do in this motel room. Only when Walker opened his mouth he didn’t declare his love. He asked Lilah if she thought he was like her mother.
I frowned. I needed to get Mom out of the conversation (and the room) so it was time for Lilah to say no, because I know you love me, and kiss me you fool or something like that and then clothes would start coming off and they’d have a lovely romp. Only the line that appeared on the page was this:
“No,” she said simply. “But you do.”
It takes a lot to stop me when I’m writing, but that did. With a four-word line of dialogue, my character completely blew me away. She wasn’t talking about Mom because of herself, and how she felt, as I had wanted. She’d mentioned her mother because of Walker and how he felt -- which she recognized because of Mom.
Worse, she was absolutely right.
Why did that make me walk out of my office and wander around the house shaking and muttering? Well, for one thing, Walker’s name isn’t Walker. I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you who he really is, but I created his character many years ago. Frostfire is actually the third book I’ve written with his character in the story. I created him, built his personality, complicated back story and every other aspect of his entire life. I’ve always known everything about him . . . until Lilah told me that I didn’t.
I never knew that Walker believed he was incapable of love. It wasn’t in the plan, the character outline, either of the other two books he appeared in, or any corner of my skull. So how did my character know that? Let me rephrase: how did an imaginary construct made up of words on paper know that?
Eventually I settled down, accepted that spooky little line which I could not explain, and got back to work. I did mark the occasion by having Walker echo my own reaction in the story (and it was logical because he didn’t realize this about himself, either.) No doubt a shrink would say Walker’s problem was one I always knew on a subconscious level, and that it emerged via the spontaneity of my dialogue writing, and I’d probably agree.
Lynn Viehl is a veteran multi-genre New York Times bestselling author who has published forty-seven novels in five genres over the past eleven years. Her weblog, Paperback Writer, has been providing resources for writers and insight into the professional writing life since 2004. She is not easily spooked.
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