Part of my character development process usually involves writing some kind of “first person” letter or snippet in the character’s voice that takes place before the story. It helps me figure out how this character talks and thinks, as well as explore some of the defining moments that shaped the character right before the story. Very early in trying to figure out who Rae was and what she needed to accomplish in the story, I stumbled across a comment on fellow Drollerie Press author, Cindy Lynn Speer’s blog. (Sorry, I can’t find it now–it was probably in 2008) It was about writing letters, and pouring out hopes and dreams into words, very melancholy and “lost love.” It made me sad, but touched me, too.
So when I started writing Rae’s character letters, I made a tiny change to my process. She specifically wrote her letter to Dr. Connagher, the hero of the story. I never intended to put those letters into the story itself — they were just to help me deepen who she was and what she feared.
However, the letters soon took on a life of their own. They were so raw, heartfelt, open and honest, very rarely politically correct or “safe.” I had to decide why Rae would write those letters to him in the first place and why she’d never mail them, even after she left. Soon those letters were defining HIS character, too, changing my perception of him as a professor and as a man. Every defining moment in her life, from that dark, erotic day in his office, to leaving campus, to her dating and eventually marrying someone else, only to suffer through an unhappy marriage and divorce…the letters eventually led her back to Conn.
Once I realized how important they were, I had to make the letters play a definite part in the story. I mean, why include the letters, even as “glimpses” into her past, if they weren’t absolutely crucial to the story and how Conn and Rae would “make things right?” So the letters went on to affect the plot itself. In the dark moment, the only thing Conn has left: her letters that she wrote him.
Five years of letters. Five years of heartache, anger, grief, need, and yes, love.