I met Paddy Eger when she attended a writing seminar I used to offer in my home, ten years or so ago. Paddy is definitely a good writer and, almost more importantly, she is a hard worker! Her persistence has paid off, as you can see by this post in celebration of her latest book, Letters to Follow: A Dancer’s Adventure.
Letting Persistent Characters into Your Stories by Paddy Eger
The first summer after I retired from teaching I took a week-long writing class from my friend, author Lauraine Snelling. That week started my writing career. Lauraine shared a wealth of information, but one particular statement caught my interest: She said, “Often characters will appear and tell you what they want you to write. They don’t usually leave until you give them their say.” Wow, I thought. That must be exciting.
For my first story I wrote about an unrealized ambition: becoming a professional ballet dancer. I began my research, built my characters, designed their homes and gave them problems to overcome. In a few instances I felt the characters guide my direction, but none ‘spoke to me.’ I decided Lauraine’s experience was reserved for people like herself who wrote dozens upon dozens of books.
As my story drew to an end, I realized Marta, my main character, needed more time to resolve her issues. That meant a second book. I could do that. It would be short. What could possibly make it a full-length novel?
I began the new story with the familiar territory of my hometown in the late 1950s and set Marta on her path to recovery. That’s when something unexpected happened; Lauraine’s experience with story characters became mine. Characters appeared, forcing their way onto my pages. They shared their names and how they wanted to be portrayed in book two. All their pushing and shoving changed my task. I became the recorder of their voices and actions so much so that they enriched my story with unexpected details making the novel close to three hundred pages long.
Finished? I thought I was. Then Lynne, Marta’s best friend, started nudging me to write her story and pull together bits of unfinished business. Book three wrote itself in many ways as the characters stepped up and shared their roles in Lynne’s story.
Having the characters unexpectedly appear was a delightful surprise. Sure I added details and organized their interactions, but the joy from letting them reveal their personalities to me helped book three’s story spin out more quickly than I could working without their input.
While I didn’t start out to write a trilogy, once I met the characters I was inspired to let them have their say. By the time the series ended I’d written more than nine hundred pages before they stepped away to live their lives without my scrutiny.
What allows persistent characters to invade a story? My theory is that when I provide ample time for the story to percolate in my mind, the characters have time to share more of their lives with me. While it may sound strange, or maybe I sound strange, I hope that allowing future, yet-to-be-unknown characters speak up will once again provide magical assistance in my stories. I’ll keep listening and waiting to hear from them.
Paddy’s writing focus remains YA novels. Her debut novel, 84 Ribbons, won the bronze Moonbeam award and was featured in the spring issue of Foreword Reviews, Fore Sight. Book two in the ballet trilogy, When the Music Stops-Dance On, received two Eric Hoffer awards, and a Feathered Quill, and a Reader’s View award. Book three, Letters to Follow-A Dancer’s Adventure is now available, completing the ballet-themed trilogy. Reading and travel provide inspiration and story ideas to fill several lifetimes.
Paddy also writes educational books and materials to encourage classroom volunteers, assists in classrooms as a volunteer, and provides volunteer training. Contact Paddy, read book excerpts and find her writing and educational blogs by visiting her website www.paddyeger.com