“I’m still struggling with Evelyn,” I told Dear Him a few weeks ago on one of our long walks.
“Say some more about that,” he replied.
So I talked about the lose-lose I was trying to orchestrate with this novel, about the way the story keeps twisting as I try to determine what’s really at stake for the protagonist, how it expanded from a novella of 24,000 words to a full-blown novel. He reminded me that Evie had come across as a very specific character in the previous two Promise House books — sassy and energetic, a take-no-prisoners ballbuster — and that perhaps she was sounding now a little too thoughtful. I reminded him that the Evie I was writing now also needed a character arc of her own, and in my mind, character arcs do require some level of introspection in order for her to grow.
Then he asked the question I didn’t realize I’d been dreading:
“Do you know who she is?”
The question irritated me because it touched a secret fear I’d had — that I’d written 80,000 words about a character I knew only vaguely. It’s true that Evie is both part of me (all protagonists reflect some aspect of their authors) and alien to me in some ways (I’ve never had her confidence and success with men).
In March I called off all writing on Evelyn for a number of reasons: burnout on writing to our WoC goals; burnout on forcing the story forward when something was definitely not right; burnout on having too much to do in my life generally as my day job changed. The creative well had run bone dry.
So I started working with The Artist’s Way in an attempt to fill the well again. I’m working the course with a friend who is also looking to fill her creative well in an entirely different area, and we’re currently on Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity.
And it’s here that I feel like a breakthrough on Evelyn is finally on its way. The Artist’s Way’s morning pages burped up an observation for me: The heroine-oriented stories that resonate with me most are those where she comes to realize — and honor — what she truly needs and wants despite what society is telling her she ought to need and want (see: Pat Simms from Home Fires, trapped in a loveless marriage to an abuser but now seeing hope in a greater sense of self-worth; Sister Bernadette from Call the Midwife: Season 2, who discovers that her love for a good man is equal to her love for her calling to the religious life; Glencora Palliser of Anthony Trollope’s The Palliser Novels, who is forced to give up the man she girlishly loves for one who is more suitable in every way, and whose worth and value she can see with her head though perhaps not her heart).
When we as authors do our pre-writing for a character as a method of discovery, we dutifully ask questions about her past, her desires, her fears, her assumptions, her needs, and so forth. And most of the time, that information informs the character arc as well as her motivation. It’s a useful exercise.
But I see now that I also have to go back to the question of what do I want — not as a writer but as a woman. What do I want and fear? What do I need to sustain me emotionally and spiritually? Because these are the questions that resonate deeply in me and can be used to inform my writing of and empathy for the protagonist.
Caroline and Ruth were easy heroines to write because they are very much me at different times of my life: Ruth was me at 22, painfully unaware of all she didn’t know, and Caroline was me at the point where I threw over a religious way of thinking in order to embrace the love of a man my faith disapproved.
So now I’m looking at the character of Evie and asking a different set of questions: What part of you is me? What are you here to teach me? Show me who you are.
And to honor her — and me — as an author I get to say to her, “It’ll be okay. I’ll take care of you. It will all turn out as it should, in the end.”
It’s a promise I look forward to keeping.
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.