Writers are not actors, but sometimes we need to get into character to better understand them. We can dress like them, maybe go to a bar we imagine they would go to.
Always have something to write down any ideas on while you’re out and about. I sometimes text myself dialogue on my phone. So once you get into the character’s head and understand what makes him or her tick, you can write it down and have it for later as you begin to build your story.
It’s harder than it sounds. Your first impulse might be to act like a puppet master, pulling the character’s strings and controlling every action and line of dialogue. Writing can be very adventurous, sort of like going for a long drive without any destination in mind. Let your character do the driving and ride along as an observer. Where would this character go? Why? And that’s exactly what today’s fiction writing exercises will help you do.
I could speak of him. I could tell my friends I feared he was dead. And they would look at me and ask me who I was talking about. But once I informed them that he’s a fictional character, I’m sure some of their sympathy would slip away.
But Banny Jones is so real to me. We’ve spent a lot of time together. In Montauk. In Florida. In New Orleans. Speeding through red lights and chasing danger until it finally took us down.
So I venture off into the West Village, keeping the fact that Banny Jones was M.I.A. and possibly dead, to myself. It’s a remarkably warm day for early February. It feels like spring. I imagine all the places Banny Jones would go if he were in New York today. This is quite plausible because he usually lurks in Montauk. Maybe he took the LIRR into the city. For what though? And I imagine. And a story begins to grow in my head. But it’s not enough. I long to know HOW he’s doing. Where he has been this whole time while I was writing another book that had nothing to do with him.
I go into a record store. This is one reason why I love New York – there are record stores still in business, the kind that actually sell records. And posters and t-shirts. I find the exact same t-shirt Banny Jones always wears. Should I buy it? It’s bizarre this record store even has such an obscure item. Is it a sign? I can’t help but think…
Do not start dressing like your fictional character. That is the voice in my head. But why not? Maybe it would be a cool way to somehow get back in touch with him because lately I have not been able to spot him in my imagination. I can’t picture what he is doing. The last poignant thing I wrote about him was that he had cancer. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
I reach for the shirt. The moment is kind of like a girl wearing her ex’s t-shirt just to feel close to him.
I went to New Orleans back in the summer of 2000 for what would be one of the best weeks of my life. I wasn’t looking for inspiration – but I’m always writing. And I feel like inspiration will find you no matter what. You just have to keep your eyes open.
New Orleans was a fantastic time. Did I meet someone there and fall in love? No. Well, sort of…
I was walking around the French Quarter. I’d just come from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and was on my way to get some gumbo when the most adorable street musician politely stepped in front of me to sing his rendition of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. He was skinny, so skinny that his big black guitar looked a bit heavy in his hands. But he played it with spunk. He was quite flirty and playful with the lyrics.
As I tried to keep up with my friends, who were too busy with the Mardi Gras attractions to notice I was being serenaded, the boy kept singing his heart out to me. So I turned around just as he sang the lyrics, There’ll be tomorrow night, but wait, What do I see? Is she walkin’ back to me?
I started to walk back to him and he started to do a little dance. It was so cute. It was one of the most charming moments of my life.
Then my friends called for me and I turned away and walked on.
I never saw the musician again.
Years later, as I’m hunched over my writing desk in New York, I look out of my window at the gorgeous spring day and I just start thinking of him. The weather is nice and warm because it’s May. It reminds me of that day in New Orleans. That musician, his cute smile and wonderfully messy black hair. That street musician would inspire my recurring character Banny Jones – the tortured musician, Roy Orbison fan, and Montauk Boy who continues to live a life of heartache and chaos. My book series, The Scorpion Series, is where Banny’s story begins.
WRITING A SERIES
Writing a series is a huge commitment. I think, once you have created your characters for the first book, you must be in love with them enough to follow them around on their journeys that will span over a few books.
The Scorpion Series follows a woman who leaves a broken marriage behind for new adventures in New Orleans, where she meets young musician Banny Jones when he pops up in front of her while she’s walking around the French Quarter, and charms her by singing Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison. This was my chance to explore the “what ifs” of that day when that street musician approached me. Yes, he probably serenaded a bunch of women. He had a hat full of dollar bills. But still, I felt like maybe…maybe if I stayed and talked to him then something wonderful may have blossomed. The romantic side of me wanted to know what could have happened. And that was where the writing came in.
Those what ifs turned into a book series that is five books so far. Boy, that street musician made some impression!
It’s all about chance encounters sometimes. There is so much inspiration out there.
WRITING AS A FORM OF THERAPY
We all have dark chapters in our lives, whether or not they actually become chapters in a book is up to us. Are you willing to revisit monsters you escaped long ago? Go back into the creepy woods after you finally found your way out? Fall back into the arms of a harmful lover after you found the will to stand on your own?
Writing about this period of my life turned out to be a joy because it gave me a window to look in, once I was out of that room.
I’m looking very forward to this Valentine’s Day, and not because I’m going out on a romantic dinner, or I want chocolates. I’m excited because I’m putting out my next book, Black Tie Event, about a heartbreaking relationship I was in when I lived in Chicago. It takes place on one of the coldest winters I’ve ever endured. The romantic thriller, you could say, is a much more realistic Fifty Shades of Grey. Ryan is not a billionaire – he lives in a basement apartment, hates his job, and desperately wants to find ways to be in control. Once he meets Sarah, he sees his chance.
Writing about this period of my life turned out to be a joy because it gave me a window to look in, once I was out of that room. I’m very proud of this book and the decision to go back and face certain demons proved to be a wise choice.
But writing as a form of therapy doesn’t always have to be so grandiose. You don’t even have to write in order to have something to share with people. Is there someone you have a crush on? Is there someone in your life peculiar to you and you want to figure them out? Start by writing a short story about them, and where you’d love for it to lead. Or go for a walk in the park and allow yourself to think about all the possibilities. Imagine you and your crush going on a wild road trip together. What do you think he or she might talk about? What are their secrets? Does danger entice you? Something bad might happen on your road trip, how will your crush handle it? How will you?
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
I wander around the West Village as the day turns into night and the temperature drops. Today, it felt like spring. Tomorrow, a blizzard is forecast.
So what does Banny Jones wear? Designer-everything, even designer socks, with the occasional controversial t-shirt. He might spend thousands of dollars on a pair of sleek trousers and rip them at the knee to show off his true rebellious spirit. There are specific reasons why Banny Jones has come across a wonderful pile of cash to splurge on such materialistic items.
Sometimes to find someone dark, you have to get a little dark.
I have the t-shirt in the black record store bag and think about putting it on. Then I start to envision him. He’s in a car, the t-shirt on, lost, in pain, and he needs to hide from his enemies. Banny Jones has a lot. He’s escaped the Montauk underground compound and he needs to start a new life.
Banny is a lost soul. I want to find him. Sometimes to find someone dark, you have to get a little dark. You have to buy the t-shirt and for a minute, pretend you are them. So find your characters. Get into character. And never forget – have fun with it!