Cardboard men and the women who love them
Actually, I guess I could do the latter. And that is just about where I am right now with one of the dudes in our latest book. His name is Brad. He's the boyfriend of our heroine Joe Frye and he's making life miserable for me. I just want the guy to go away. But I can't do that, because he's important to the plot. Joe doesn't really need him but I, the author, do.
It's my fault. I gave birth to this creep. I can't even blame my co-author sister Kelly because when we plotted this book out, I was the one who drew duty on Brad. I put him on paper, I got him up and walking around. So now I have to find a way to deal with him.
I thought I was finished with Brad. When we turned in the book, I quickly forgot about him. But then our editor -- a very insightful gentleman named Mitch Ivers -- sent us his revision letter. And let's just say Brad didn't exactly float Mitch's boat.
Brad, it seems, is a cipher. In creating him, I committed one of the biggest sins of writing, something I preach about to every new writer I encounter. Namely:
Your villain MUST NOT be stupid, dull, or incompetent. He MUST be a worthy opponent for your hero.
Wait, you say, I thought Brad was Joe's boyfriend, not the villain. Well, the same commandment applies to love interests as well. If you expect readers to buy into a romantic relationship, the man you pick for your woman must be worthy of her affection.
Brad, alas, is made of cardboard. He's not the sexy UPS man. He's the UPS box.
I didn't take the time or energy to flesh him out. I neglected to give their relationship enough backstory to make it believable. I was so busy lavishing love and words on my heroine, the villain and the cast of fabulous secondary characters -- shoot, even the frickin' scenery -- that I just plain forgot about flaccid Brad.
I know why this happened, though I hate to admit it.
This book is the first one we have written that actually has a romantic relationship at its core. It is the first in what we hope will be a new series featuring our female cop Joe Frye. It is still dark in tone and hardboiled in its bones, but it does deal with the gooier things like sex and love. (Which don't come up much in Louis Kincaid's cosmos). So Brad had a place.
But I think when it came time to write about the gooier things, I froze. I had flashbacks to my romance writing days when if you didn't have sex every four chapters or so there was something wrong with you. But that was a long time ago. I haven't had to have sex since...I had to go look this up...1993!
Friends, I am here to tell you. It is NOT just like riding a bicycle.
The lesson here is: pay attention to every character and don't take shortcuts. I didn't do my job as a writer with Brad the first time around; I thought I could get away with giving him less than my best. So now, here I am, struggling with rewrites. Transfusing Brad with some blood, jolting him with the heart paddles, trying to make him come alive on the page.
I should have killed him off in chapter 20.