Writing While Swimming with Sharks

Pantsers must love these. I find them terrifying.

Writers will tell you there are three types of writers:

  • Pantsers, those who write extemporaneously (by the seat of their pants.)
  • Planners, those who write using outlines and by planning ahead.
  • Plantsers, those who utilize a combination of the two.

I’m a plantser…but not by choice.

Although a lot of my character development happens when the characters start talking to each other, I begin by planning them, and I like creating a skeletal outline for the plot that I fill in as I go along. I also answer a set of questions before writing each scene.

But with every book, all of that planning falls apart at some point.

Maybe instead of a skeleton, I’m creating outline spider webs. It’s frustrating and frightening. Sometimes, it’s a characters fault. (Thomas Carillon, don’t look away. You know who I’m talking about.)

Often, however, it’s simply because I forgot to look at my notes and got carried away. It’s like swimming in the ocean, looking back, and realizing you’re a lot further out than you intended. You’re out with the sharks now. Land looks faraway and your blanket and cooler are barely visible.

I’m treading those waters now. My throat is clenched with fear, and I’m worried about that thing that just bumped against my leg.

I hate feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing. Out of control. The bones all nothing but wispy fragments. I know I’ll work through it and find my way back to the story I had planned—to those scenes I was waiting eagerly to write and the Happily Ever After that has kept me going. By the time I finally get to that HEA and do a few revisions, I should have something a little different than I had planned, but better.

Sometimes being a writer means clutching spiderwebs in your hands and swimming with the sharks.

That outline that I thought was such a strong skeleton. Thanks again, Thomas.
Thomas also talks to ghosts. His cat, Gracie, senses them. To discover more about how shy Thomas meets the love of his life and solves a series of murders in 1888 Texas, you can buy Carillon’s Curse on Amazon or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Giving Gifts to Characters

I enjoy giving my characters gifts to help them through the story. I don’t mean wings or magical abilities—although sometimes I give them those, too. I’m talking about in terms of backstory and friends. Other writers probably do this; they simply might not recognize it as a gift they give to their characters.

My mother died recently. She was an abusive narcissist, and our relationship was complicated. I suppose because of this, it comes naturally to me to write characters with abusive parents or guardians.

I consciously chose not to do that with Thomas Carillon of Carillon’s Curse, my Western gothic paranormal romance, and the sequel to it I’m writing. I had already made Thomas’s life difficult. I gave him clubfoot in the 1800s, when it wasn’t easily—or successfully treated, a sensitive nature, and the sometimes troublesome ability to talk to ghosts. He’s also gay at a time when this could have landed him in prison in Texas and could have possibly resulted in his death

How awful would it be to give him bad parents on top of all of that?

Thomas is a sweet character, and I love him. I gave him a gift I never had—two kind, loving parents who wanted only the best for him. I gave him wealth and privilege. I gave him, as an adult, a staff of servants who cared about him and Gracie, a cat who senses ghosts. (They didn’t have emotional support animals in the 19th century, but that’s basically what she is.)

In Lover, Destroyer, my m/m fantasy romance, I cursed Kite with a terrible, destructive power that separated him from other mages and made people fear him. When the book opens, he’s a child who has destroyed an entire city at the emperor’s behest. Nothing is left behind, not even a baby’s shoe. An army of mages takes him back to the emperor—all of them fear, even despise, the boy in their care. Kite is a sad, scared, lonely little boy.

So, I gave him a gift. Cinder from my only m/f fantasy romance, The Inquisitor’s Gift. It’s the same universe, the same land. Cinder, at this time, is about to become a teacher at a prestigious magic school in the capitol. He’s good-hearted and fearless with a silly sense of humor. He takes Kite under his wing, and does what he can to help him through a frightening period.

This doesn’t mean that Kite grows up to be a healthy adult. He’s twisted and dark. Sadistic. Mercurial. A secretive, haunted man who thinks love isn’t meant for him.

Although I enjoy plunging characters into the depths of despair, I always like to give them special things that I wish I’d had when I felt alone or desperate. For me, it’s one of the joys of writing.

Writing an Ongoing Relationship

I’m writing about Thomas and Hadrian again. They’re on a new case, searching for a new killer and running into a number of ghosts. What I’m having the most fun with is their relationship. It’s fun to write about the first bloom of love, but what I really enjoy is writing about how couples make a partnership work.

Falling in love is easy. For me, anyway. I always laugh when reviewers say a couple seemed to get together too soon. When I was single, I could fall head over heels for someone after knowing them a few hours. I love being in love. I guess I’m a free spirit. And I don’t make small talk. Even now. I’m intense and like to get to the nuts and bolts of a person. People often tell me their darkest secrets. I’m not sure why, but I always fall in love with them a little when they do. If there’s any chemistry there, as well—

Staying together is the hard part. I’ve been with my husband longer than some of my readers have been alive. Every day, I make the decision to connect and understand. Loving another human and sharing your life with them isn’t easy—especially if you’re both passionate, damaged, and sensitive. We’ve never broken up, but there were a few times that were close.

In this book, Thomas is trying to assert his independence. He’s madly in love with Hadrian, but he doesn’t want to be smothered by him. He’s trying to figure out his boundaries so he can set them.

Hadrian is dealing with a diagnosis of “soldier’s heart” (PTSD), which he sees as a threat to his strength and manhood. He’s worried about adequately protecting Thomas—and doesn’t really hear when Thomas rejects his protection.

I’m setting them up for a collision, but they’ll find their way out of the wreckage and be stronger for it. If two people are truly committed to making a relationship work, they find a way.

And that’s why I love writing romance—and love writing these “how they stay together” stories most of all.

If you want to read the first book in this series, a standalone, you can find it on Amazon and free with KU.

If you’re curious about another paranormal series I wrote where the characters’ relationship grew over a three book series, you can check out Love Songs for Lost Worlds, also on Amazon and free with KU.