“When the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
There are probably few fiction authors on the planet who cannot immediately identify with the classic quote above. In it, Louisa May Alcott describes her central character Jo as an aspiring writer, completely absorbed in her work (though tragic, sensitive, homebody Beth is my personal favourite).
The line ‘full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh,’ perfectly sums up the experience of writing my most recent offering ‘S.I.R.E.N.S.’
Already an author under other names in other genres, erotica was an interesting foray for me. I came to it initially with a desire to write short, thrilling tales of naughtiness and sexual liberation. My one concern from the start was the seeming lack of depth evidenced in many erotic characters I had read while researching other offerings. I have a certain, strange admiration for writers who can create stories about ‘cardboard cut-outs’ bonking like bunnies, but it just wasn’t me. There had to be at least some emotional currency in each tale, or they felt empty and devoid of merit. Even in the shortest of my short pieces, I have always attempted to make the reader feel something beyond pure arousal for the mechanics of sex.
It was when I finally decided to sit down and write a full-length erotic novel, that I knew my characters would surely have proper room to grow, develop and shine. Little did I realise some of the turns that would take, and the power of their individual and collective voices.
When you write a book about four women (Austrian, French, English and Italian) who are thrown together on a desperate war mission with little chance of survival; building strong characters your readers will bond with is absolutely essential. On the one hand I had a rich palette of cultures and backstories to draw from – surely at least ONE of my girls would tug at a heart string?! On the other was the slightly scary thought of whether or not the characters would ‘gel’ when they finally came together. I knew how the onward story should develop, but if the team just became plot ‘props’ the whole journey would flounder.
Elsa and Sophie meet early on. Despite their initial, difficult encounter, I wasn’t overly worried about those two. But what of Jessica and Carlotta? All so very different. This was one reason I chose to expand their training montages into the Christmas spent with Jessica’s Aunt Viv at her house ‘Keston,’ in the fictional North Yorkshire village of Oakdale. Giving my girls a chance to be – well GIRLS, enabled them to bond in a way commando and espionage training wouldn’t allow. While Oakdale was never intended as a central location, it became an important story hub from which many plot ‘spokes’ radiate out (Sophie’s mittens, the picture from Arisaig, Elsa’s promise to return, the final poignant scenes with Jessica etc.). The Christmas section ended up being longer than I first envisioned, and was an absolute joy to write.
Suddenly I had gone from four individually special women, to developing a powerful group dynamic. It was from this point and their subsequent parachute insertion into Nazi Germany, that I realised the group’s collective identity had also become a ‘character’ in its own right! This was first apparent after something interfered with it. One notable example would be Carlotta’s isolation and vulnerability during her espionage work at the weapon research plant. Away from the others the dynamic changes, as does that of the remaining three working together.
In each of the last three chapters, the group dynamic alters again for a variety of reasons. While I knew exactly where I was going with the story, the emotional impact on myself as an author was actually quite surprising. It also added affective gravitas to the whole tale. Something that all my plot planning could neither create nor foresee.
As writers, we sometimes wrestle with story minutiae that just doesn’t quite want to come together. One such component in ‘S.I.R.E.N.S’ was the point where Elsa, Sophie and Jessica must covertly intercept and destroy a copy of the weapon formula bound for Berlin (neutralising the couriers in the process) and all without compromising Carlotta or their onward mission. I had tossed around any number of variations for how to carry that off with both historical and equipment accuracy, plot engagement etc. There were certain things I just couldn’t do, because the parameters in relation to ‘discovery’ were so very tight. When I finally got to that point in the writing process, I decided to sit back and let the voices of my well-formed characters do the talking. And you know what? The answer flowed naturally without any struggle! I think that sometimes if we will only love and listen to our characters, the story soon takes care of itself…
When I say ‘love’ our characters, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to identify with them, of course. ‘S.I.R.E.N.S’ features some absolutely delicious villains, and none more-so than the morally bankrupt and emotionally void lump of nastiness that is Dr. Hans Gessler. In fact, it was difficult resisting the temptation to make him almost cartoon-like in his vileness. The readers know Carlotta is tasked with killing him. From the way he treats her and others they can’t wait for it to happen. The culmination of that is as graphically violent, deviant and kinky as you might expect. Not a scene for the squeamish!
Spending seven days a week with ‘my girls’ during the creation process, was an absolute pleasure. I actually miss them and their company now. When we create well-formed characters, I think we get to experience something no other person ever will: the joy of tagging along on their journey with all the uncertainty as it is written.
Every time I re-read the book, I know which level-headed activity Elsa will perform, what quiet strength Sophie will exude, which outrageous things Jessica will say or undertake, and whether or not passionate Carlotta will allow her head or heart to decide the course of action in a given situation. But being there when those choices were first made, was the ultimate writer’s privilege. Naturally our readers get a taste of it the very first time they plough through a new work. But somehow, that’s still not quite the same.
Whether or not you or others think your characters are well ‘written,’ I encourage you to love them as you create. There’s something about reading well-formed characters which stands apart from the other technical mechanics of our craft.
If you’d like to meet Elsa, Sophie, Jessica and Carlotta yourself, you will find ‘S.I.R.E.N.S’ on Kindle Unlimited or for purchase at the Kindle store.
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2ucICjM
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2GPomY9
Amazon India: http://amzn.to/2uiXugS
Amazon Germany: http://amzn.to/2DSGBsE
Amazon France: http://amzn.to/2I2qs6q
Amazon Spain: http://amzn.to/2DWjo9i
Amazon Italy: http://amzn.to/2IQTRC6
Amazon Netherlands: http://amzn.to/2DSQHK1
Amazon Japan: http://amzn.to/2pD5pAH
Amazon Brazil: http://amzn.to/2DSIiqe
Amazon Canada: http://amzn.to/2G3X3wm
Amazon Mexico: http://amzn.to/2ILZC3H
Amazon Australia: http://amzn.to/2G9EliX