I’ve been writing about Heather for a couple of months now. You remember Heather, the woman with the two boys, living alone now that they’re out of the house. She studied Avery’s photographs in the coffee shop until she learned that her father was being let out of prison. I thought I knew her, too.
But when she leaves for Texas to get her father settled in with her brother, she takes a detour to stop and see her ex-husband three states away. I didn’t know she was going to do that until she started driving. And on the way there, she reveals a little something about herself that I didn’t know. Something a little disturbing.
How can I not know these things? She’s an invention of my imagination.
There are fiction writing gurus who will tell you to plan your characters meticulously, to know their history, their families, their personalities, their moral standings, even which toothpaste they prefer. I can see the advantage to writing that way. There is less likelihood that your character will do something, well, out of character. These same gurus will also advise you to allow for the possibility that your character might surprise you along the way.
In my previous work, I’ve tried to outline my characters as much as possible. With Heather, as well as the other characters in my story, I’m completely winging it. It’s kind of like I’m along for the ride. What better way to get to know Heather than to spend three days in the car with her? So, yeah, I was surprised at what I learned.
Then there’s her ex-husband. I had some thoughts about what he might be like. Some thoughts about why they weren’t together anymore. But Heather hasn’t really told me anything about all of that yet, not even in the four hours it took to get to Charlotte.
It wasn’t until they were face to face that I started to see some things.
The front door opened when she was halfway up the sidewalk.
“I’ll be damned.”
He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and looked like he hadn’t shaved for a few days. His once-blonde hair was mostly dark brown now with just a little gray around the temples. It was long and unruly and made her smile. He was aging very well.
“And out of sky she fell, like an autumn leaf floating on a cool October breeze, my beautiful Heather Girl.”
He was off the porch and had wrapped his arms around her before she made it to the steps.
“It’s so good to see you.”
His voice was almost a whisper, but not quite. A true whisper would have been out of place, maybe a little threatening, a normal voice would have lost the sincerity. It was the perfect intonation, the kind of thing that came natural to Robert Scott. She had no choice but to believe his words.
And so on.
Robert is as much of a surprise as Heather. I’m glad I didn’t plan these guys out. I really think it would have stifled the creativity. All of this may be a complete train wreck before it’s through, but I sure am having fun writing it. Which for me, is the whole point.