I know, it’s finally spring and I should be writing about the return of flowers and birds and anticipating warm weather. And I *am* excited about warmer temps, watching rain instead of snow (actually my part of the country got almost no snow this year, so any moisture is exciting). When I saw the first flying V of geese heading north, I dragged my husband outside to see them. And he and I are both excited to see the slender green blades of our crocus, daylilies, and daffodils fighting their way out of the ground.
But the other thing that I love about spring is that my imagination wakes up. I don’t consider that I have the luxury of not writing, but by the end of winter, even writing characters that are the children of my wildest dreams feels like a rut.
It’s time to visit the Bone Orchard.
In the slang of the Old West, that phrase is said to refer to a graveyard, filled with bones without flesh. But to me, the Bone Orchard calls up a less macabre place. It’s where I find basic story parts and then flesh them out with my imaginings. With sap coursing through the trees and birds in the backyard, it also feels like there’s a bit more life in my gray winter brain.
Sometimes writers start with a character archetype, like the Nurturing Mother or the Wounded Healer. Sometimes it’s a place, like an ordinary village that changes when a stranger arrives. The stranger could be a cowboy on the American frontier, or it could be a woman with a shameful secret in Victorian England, like the heroine of most recent manuscript. Sometimes it’s a theme, like ‘learn to trust your instincts’.
The thing is, the mother or the healer or the village or even the need to trust our instincts are not enough to make a story about. They’re vague. All by themselves, they don’t evoke an emotional response. They are nothing but dry bones, with no flesh and blood to support. They aren’t heroes or heroines yet, and I don’t know how they’ll get to their happy ending, just that somehow they will.
What I get to do is put muscles on the bones, and add a brain and a heart inside them. Names, a unique backstory, a specific problem to solve, and a good twist. What if that nurturing mother decides to resort to blackmail for the benefit of her beloved child? What if she went to such lengths not from malice, but out of a desperate need for money to pay medical bills? As a reader, would you identify with her fear? Condemn her? Either way, my hope is that you’d want to read more about her. My job, sitting at my computer day after day, typing words onto a blank screen, is to find fascinating characters for readers to care about, identify with, and turn the page for until they get to their HEA.
I love discovering new books and new characters to love, both mine and those of other writers! Who is the most absorbing fictional character you’ve read about lately?