voices in my head

When I was writing Homestead, there was always a significant pause between chapters. The reason for this pause was that I had to figure out which of the voices in my head would get to speak up first. Each chapter is written from another woman’s perspective, and each of those women were very adamant about the role they would play.

The one exception was Bengat’s Olga. It took a very long time to realize that the only way for her part of the story to be told was in the form of a letter. She didn’t want to speak to me, she wanted to talk to her husband. So she did.

I have a similar situation in Pajama Jones. Julia Darrow is a woman with a story that needs to be told, and she’s really particular about the who and how and when. She won’t tell it all at once, and she’ll only tell it to one particular character. The problem is that often I misstep in the manner of telling it.

You realize there are so many ways for characters to share information. They can talk to each other in direct dialog; their dialog can be indirect (which is sometimes far more powerful); they can remember something in detail in a vivid you-are-there present tense flashback (something that works for my characters quite often). Or some combination of all these. Or the author can take over and play omniscient being. This is something I very rarely do.

When Julia is ready to tell part of her story, for me it’s like walking on eggshells. I start the scene and if she isn’t comfortable with the way it’s going, she balks. Just shuts down. Closes herself in her room. This is a traumatic story she’s telling and I feel sometimes like I’m coaxing it out of her, or maybe more like I’m directing somebody who is both author and actor. I say, okay, you want to tell this in your own words and she says, NO. Not directly.

So I write and rewrite and rewrite it again, and finally she settles down and allows the story to move ahead.

I know that other writers experience this in a similar way. Not all writers, but at least some. It’s very disconcerting to be negotiating such delicate matters with somebody who lives in your own head. Because they never go away, not completely. They’ll pop out at the most inconvenient moment to reveal an awkward detail that can’t be ignored, or to simply shut things down if they are unhappy. They care not a fig for practical matters. Deadline is not in the character’s vocabulary. But it’s in mine. I’ve got a month to finish this novel. Will I make it?

Doesn’t feel like it, just at this moment. Or so Julia informs me.

And that’s today’s post from the land of split personalities.