Listen to Your Characters

I’m the kind of writer that likes to have a pretty good idea of where my story is going before I sit down to write. My first book wasn’t that way, and I spent two years wandering in the wilderness before “Star Bounty” (I still cringe as I write this) was finished. It was a mess. But it was a start for me. And many more books followed it.

Like I said, I usually know where I want to go while I’m writing. I have a Promised Land in mind, I have the first few chapters pretty well defined, and even though the last have of the book may be vague when I start, I know it will figure itself out as time goes on.

Sometime that happens pretty easy. Sometimes–like this time–it’s a struggle.

Tesla’s Ghost–my current project–is probably the most complicated story I’ve ever written. It’s really two books. The story is of a secret notebook that is kept by Fritz Lowenstein, the assistant to Nikola Tesla in the 1890s, that records some strange happenings in the lab. Tesla wants a record of them, but is afraid that if his millionaire sponsors hear of what’s happening, they will be frightened off. So they keep it quiet. The story continues as together they seek their goal of free, limitless electricity for everyone.

The journal comes into play 120 years later–in modern day–when Fritz Lowenstein’s great-great-grandson Eli inherits the book. Eli’s a college student with his own set of problems. He’s deep in debt, at risk of flunking out, and trying to solve it all with a get-rich scheme of producing a computer game with friends. Eli’s optimistic, doesn’t think too far ahead, and willing to risk everything by trusting those around him. It’s a trait that makes him both endearing and annoying.

Most of the story I have under my belt. We are 2/3 of the way there with the rough draft. I have the Tesla portion all figured out, but the modern portion has refused to come together. It’s obvious that the book needs an ending that is powerful, fulfilling and is a natural result of what has happened before. It’s easy sometimes to come up with explosions or a car chase simply to end the book, but if it isn’t a logical progression from what has happened before, it’s contrived, and obviously that way.

I’ve struggled with this. I don’t want to tell you too much of what happens, but in the story, Eli’s best friend Sam (short for Samantha) and he become more-than-friends, and then they start second guessing their relationship. When things become dangerous (people other than Eli recognize the value of the journal and are willing to do anything to get it), Sam thinks Eli isn’t behaving properly. It’s obvious to me that the ending has to put both their relationship—and their lives–at risk.

But how to do this? It’s something I’ve mulled over for a couple of weeks now. Then today, while my wife was cutting my hair (no relation to the story, other than the fact that the action frees up the creative side of the brain) I had an epiphany. I really wish I could tell you how it is going to end, because for me it is exciting and fulfilling. Epiphanies come few and far between, and on this project it has been 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But when they happen, they renew hope that the project will come through.

The solution is a natural part of the character’s personalities. Sam is the pragmatist; Eli the optimist. They are faced with a life-threatening choice. Eli takes the optimist’s way out, which turns out to be a mistake. Sam steps in, and…we have a slam-bang ending, which affects both their relationship and their lives.

You don’t know how hard it is for me to keep all of this under wraps. Further, I’m finding that even my writing students’ eyes glaze over when I try to talk about this complicated project. But it’s coming to a close. Someday soon, I’ll be able to share sneak peeks with you. Hopefully you will get as excited as I am.