Sometimes I wonder about becoming emotionally connected to our characters. On one hand, it’s helpful because I believe we write them with more intimacy, credibility—that’s how we make them come alive. On the other hand, it’s harder to get them into trouble, kill them off, or even, end the story. Often, characters become our friends, our moral support, our escape, and it’s not easy to let them go.
Finding the balance between an emotional connection and a business relationship is the key for successful authors. If we hope to write more than one book, or finish a story at all, we have to learn how to say goodbye to a story that moved us deeply enough we had to write it.
For years, I worked on one novel. Even when I put it aside to try another story, those characters from the first novel kept talking to me. Even when I thought I was finished writing it and I was querying it, those darn characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I could never truly finish it.
I have referred to this novel as my Bossy Novel. I had many half-begun stories, a few 50,000-word starter novels from NaNoWriMo, random story ideas and character sketches, but due to Ms. Bossy I had no drive or focus to finish them.
I was afraid putting my novel aside and committing to another project was the same as giving up on that first book. I didn’t want to let my characters down, so I kept fighting for them. I failed to understand that what I needed most was to get their story written.
The rest would fall into place when it was time.
Saying goodbye to characters, to their story, to the time we’ve spent writing about it all, is tough. Some books are harder to let go than others. Recurring characters in sequels sometimes help ease that pain. Writing something entirely new is another way to transition. Understanding the purpose of each book in your life can also help put everything into perspective.
This is what writers do. We lay stories down for audiences to read. If we are good at what we do, we get to do it again. And again. I doubt King or Chabon shed many goodbye tears after they’d written their skeighty-eighth book.
Job security is often a great painkiller.
I eventually made peace with Ms. Bossy. I will never give up on it, but I have a new understanding about this book. It’s one of many that I will write. Knowing that made it much easier to write The End.
Do you have trouble moving on from a book you’re writing?