Do You Go All the Way (for your readers)?

CinnamonKicks by Nuttycake Photography used with permission
CinnamonKicks by Nuttycake Photography used with permission

I go all the way. When I’m writing, I live it, breathe it, and feel it. It’s the only way I know how.

I’m in the latter stages of completing a new novel. This will be the first novel I’ve released since 2012. In the last three years I’ve written and published – a collection of short stories, a romance novella, and my self-publishing guidebook, but I haven’t put out any new, novel-length work. For me, climbing into the writing cave and coming out the other side is an emotional experience. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done. Each time, after I’ve made it back to dry land, I feel as though something inside me changed during the process. Either I’m becoming a little more off balance with each book I write or I’m learning something about myself. I’m still not sure which it is.

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski

Before I began writing this current novel I put together an outline. This was a new experience; previously I’d been a pantser and let the muse guide me wherever she saw fit. And, it worked. In 2011 and 2012 I wrote a couple of books that were very well received – great reviews, both became bestsellers in their categories, and one even made it top five in all of Amazon. This time I wanted to try a different method. For this book I had the beginning, middle, and end outlined before I started. Creatively, those three sections didn’t formulate in my mind in that order. I had the conclusion very clear in my head long before I knew how I was going to get there. In fact, the end was far more vivid than the beginning until halfway through the process. It’s been an interesting ride, and I’ve enjoyed it, and I believe I’ve now become a plotter. It’s taken the pressure off and that’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of pressure involved in writing a novel. I believe for a story to work, for my readers to buy into those eighty-thousand words, there has to be some truth involved. This can be literal truth or the truth that I’m trying to convey through the emotions within the story.

“A writer should create living people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Within the pages of my new work there are several events that did indeed happen. Not all of them happened to me and not all of them happened exactly as I’ve described, but they did happen. I drew from similar experiences when I wrote My Temporary Life, the aforementioned debut novel that has been so good to me. Many readers are convinced this book is autobiographical. I was teaching a workshop a couple of years ago and two ladies who were attending kept referring to me as “Malcolm”, the protagonist’s name. I corrected them and said, “I’m not him.”

In very earnest voices, they answered in unison, “Oh, yes, you are.”

I immediately asked them to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and then thanked them. Could I have received any stronger validation? They bought into the story and the character. So, my job was done – it worked. Many of the reviews that have been written about my first two books, or emails I’ve received from readers, have said the same thing. They believe the story actually happened and the characters from those books – Malcolm and Hardly – exist. They’re right, but they’re wrong, too. I write fiction. Although I utilize actual events, I make stuff up as well. In order to do this, I tune everything else out – sometimes the whole world. I think of my characters when I’m driving, they’re in my dreams when I try to sleep, I even get to the point that if something significant happens in my real life I wonder how they’re going to react when they find out. Yes, I’m the guy in the restaurant talking to his reflection in the glass. I listen to the voices in my head. There is no loneliness in writing for me – I have the souls who inhabit my pages to keep me company.

“Writers aren’t exactly people…They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anyway, I better get back to it. I have a crush on one of my characters and I want to spend a little time with her. Soon, I’ll finish my story, and she’ll be just a memory. I’m hoping to have a draft ready for my beta readers in about a week so the end is nigh. If you’ve been where I am now, you know what it’s like. My words are slurred, vision is wonky, I even found myself chasing after an ice cream truck a few hours ago yelling “The Bells, The Bells.” Putting this article together is the most lucid I’ve been in days. Writing by living out my stories in my head is the most difficult, rewarding, all-encompassing endeavor I’ve ever experienced. I’m so lucky that there’s a place where my madness is considered normal. I go all the way, and I always will.

“The act of writing is never pretend. The blood, the tears, the heartaches – they’re all real. And, if they’re not it’s time to begin again.” – Martin Crosbie

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

23 thoughts on “Do You Go All the Way (for your readers)?”

  1. That was great! Characters have that way about them don’t they. What I wouldn’t give to sit down for a game of cards with my favorites.

    1. Thank you Zack. My mind was in that almost-finished, mush mode when I wrote the article. I’m glad some of it made sense. Thank you for commenting!

  2. This is great, Martin, thank you! Oh, I know exactly where you are. The bells, the bells, the bells…and where ARE my car keys? Have fun with it. 😀

  3. I become immersed in my characters’ lives–so much so that they feel like “fictional family.” Sometimes, I think they are real human beings, living somewhere, and I’ll bump into them one day. When I finish a story, I grieve, because I must part from them. They never leave me, however…

    1. Yes, I do too. Although I love getting my life back for a little while I hate that I’m not spending my time with the characters. I used to think of it as withdrawal, but your description is more accurate Linda. It is grieving.
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Nice post, Martin. I think the very best time for a writer is when they can huddle in a quiet corner and commune with their characters, push-pulling the story out in delicate teases. Like you, I haven’t published a new book in just over a year, but I’m working on it. There are always so many things to grab our attention, but there’s nothing like letting the juices flow and seeing where they go.

    1. I heard a writer say that he lights a candle and invites his characters into the room. I’ve never had to do that. They stay with me.
      Thanks Melissa!

  5. Martin, I have my newest book outlined. I started the 1st paragraph probably 75 times…wrote the first chapter at least five times…and it’s ready …it’s in me…and I am so damn miserable and lonely and longing to be with my characters, so I can know exactly what they are doing and how they feel about it…and I have to work a day job. At every opportunity, I crawl into my characters world and stay there as long as I can. Yesterday…I was still in their world when I had to go to work. Let’s just say this…many of my customers may have received the wrong change because I was mentally hanging out with my imaginary friends and not paying much attention to the cash register I was manning. Oh, well.
    Thanks for this article. I understand how you feel…It’s not easy living in an alternate universe. 🙂

    1. Peggy, yes, you do understand how I feel. Perfectly. It’s an odd relationship we have with them. In some ways I want my real life back but there’s another part of me that prefers um, “being with them”.
      It’s madness, isn’t it.
      Thanks for sharing, always good to know that I’m not alone.

  6. When My husband was reading my first novel, he poked his head in my office to ask if he was the young girl’s father. I asked why and he replied, “Shelly and her mother are going out and the father said he was going to stay back and watch the basketball game on TV.” I replied that you’re suppose to write what you know.

    1. Well said, Freddie. I’ve had friends ask me to use their real names as a character’s names and I’ve refused. I’d rather keep them guessing as to whether I used them as a model. Possibly eliminates the need for a lawyer and all that pesky law suit stuff too.
      Thanks for commenting.

  7. Bingo! You nailed it, Martin. I’ve had a few characters hang around and refuse to leave. “You’re no longer needed.” “Nuts to you! I’m staying!” I like characters like that (eventually, I hasten to add). I’m grateful when they stay. By the way, I’m still convinced that you and Malcolm are the same person. 🙂

    1. I love your enthusiasm George. And, you’re right, I’m grateful when mine stay too, and when they show up again in other books.
      I appreciate your comment, and some days I think I am Malcolm, others I feel I’m more like Hardly, his school friend.
      Thanks for dropping by, my friend!

  8. You’ve nailed it, Martin. Finishing a book is both satisfying and sad — I’ve succeeded at climbing a mountain, but I know I’ll miss the people I met along the way. Maybe that’s why I write series. That way, I get to spend more than one book with my characters. 😉

  9. Well put, Martin. What’s that Miley Cyrus song? It’s all about the climb or some such. A lot of the effort and grit and getting to know the characters is one of the best, realest parts of the journey.

  10. R.J., did you really just ask me about the lyrics to a Miley Cyrus song? Oh my, we really have to talk about music one day : )
    Yes, the revealing of the characters is pretty special, isn’t it.
    Thanks for commenting!

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