After I had started the second book in my Prioress Eleanor/Brother Thomas series, I found myself struggling to get past the first couple of chapters. Something just wasn’t right, but I hadn’t a clue what it was.
So I took a writing class offered at Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera CA which was taught by Katherine Neville and Sarah Smith. They asked about any works in progress and problems. I brought up mine, explaining that Prioress Eleanor was featured in the first chapter and Brother Thomas in the second, but I couldn’t get any further.
Their advice? “Listen to your characters.”
To non-writers, it sounds crazy, but characters are similar to actors. They need a voice in your work. If you deny them that, they balk, they thwart, and they get very pig-headed. Like the director of a play, writers have to intimately know and respect the psychology of those who play parts in the work. Unless you do, you are in serious danger of either writing a bad book or a very dull one.
In my case, the solution was absurdly easy. I had ignored my agreement with my two main characters that they be co-sleuths. Although Brother Thomas, nice guy that he is, was willing to let Prioress Eleanor have the edge on the ultimate solution of the crime, he was not about to play Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Dr. Watson to Basil Rathbone’s imperious Sherlock. In Tyrant of the Mind, he thought he was owed the first chapter, perhaps as acknowledgement of his less than secondary position. I gave it to him, put Prioress Eleanor in the second chapter, and the book took off.
Listen to your characters.