There you are, motoring through life, minding your own business when Wham! In the words of George Strait, “There she comes a walking, talking true love . . .” Your world goes topsy-turvy, out of control, spiraling into the Universe.
Your heart races, you lose weight (we always say a love affair is good for ten pounds lost), you can’t think (or act) straight. You’re obsessed with the new object of your affections. Everything else pales compared to this shiny sparkling thing.
Yep, a new love affair causes these reactions. And if you’re a novelist, that new affection is often for the characters banging on the door of your head, demanding your full attention.
And why wouldn’t they? They’re perfect, no? You’ve never met a man so worthy, a woman with such a heart of gold, folks who are funny and witty, strong and kind, adept and . . . Well, there’s just nothing wrong with them. That absolutely ideal person has just walked into your life, saying, as in the next line of the song, “I’ve been lookin’ for you, love.” A match made in heaven.
For a time, that rush sustains you. Who needs food? Sleep? No criticism allowed—even from your very best friends (or the quiet one in your head). They just don’t know him, or this story, like you do!
Uh huh. We’ve all walked down this road—falling in love. And a funny thing happens, a few months in. Hm, was that a catty remark about, well, about just about anything? Wait a minute, did he just do that? And did his best friend just share his misguided, ignorant thoughts about your sister?
Characters you’ve created start to seem as if made of straw—nice when facing them, full of stuffing once you look from the side. The fairytale of new romance begins to leak from holes in the structure, implausible paths, an inability to fit what you fell for in the first place with the reality in front of you.
And it’s about this time that folks break off that love affair—whether with an actual person, or the novel they’re creating. The thrill is gone. And what’s left is just plain hard work.
Which any therapist in the world will tell you, that’s what a relationship is about. And any editor will explain the same thing. This juncture is what separates the girls from the women, the heroes from the goats.
Of course, first you have to sort through, and decide a few things:
1. When the love dust settles and the light of day shines in, what do you actually have here? Charles Manson or the Buddha himself? Or something more humanly in between? Who is this hero, and is there enough substance for him to carry you through your story? Or is it time to kick him to the curb and try again?
2. What is your story? Can you identify it, clearly, concisely, amidst all the wine and chocolates (i.e., fluff)? Or are you ping-ponging from Africa to Brazil, cocktail party to bedroom, adrift in a sea of meaningless stuff?
3. Within this context, can you identify enough plot points (twists and turns, propelling the story into different directions) to sustain an entire novel? Or is this particular one so dang boring, the sagging middles of only TV nights stretch before you . . .
4. When you ‘think from the end,’ do you see a satisfying conclusion? Or do visions of him running off with a flamenco dancer at age seventy dance in your head? I.e., will the ending be the crowning glory on a story of worth and substance, or cotton candy that readers will forget the instant they turn the last page?
If you can answer yes to the first questions in the points above, you have enough to dive in, do the dirty and hard work, and commit for the journey. And once you do, a funny thing happens: You fall in love all over again . . .