Possessiveness – A Roadblock to Finishing Your Book

As writers, we sometimes feel very possessive of our characters. Deep down inside, I don’t always want to share my favorite story and its characters with my readers. Sounds crazy, I know, but then I haven’t been totally sane since I started writing. I often feel a little jealous that my readers get to walk into my personal and private world, my thoughts and loves, my personal story ideas that belong only to me. As a writer, I am forced to give these things away once I finish a story. If I want to make a living at this, I have no choice. And yet for me, it’s never been about money. It’s always been about the stories, and my desire to tell them and to share them. Yet when I do, I feel as though I’ve lost a part of myself to the whole world and to a host of strangers who are reading about my very personal thoughts and dreams.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love and appreciate anyone who buys my books and loves them and tells others about them. But at the same time, once one of my books is published, I am allowing readers to walk into my characters’ lives and see into their private world. Those characters are no longer just mine. It’s kind of like giving away my own children or sharing my husband with other women!!

I hope all of you are laughing by now, and probably shaking your heads. Why on earth would I NOT want to share my characters with others? That’s what this business is all about. And maybe readers will never understand this, but I’ll bet a lot of WRITERS understand. Until my book is published, my characters are just mine. No one else can have them. This is the reason some writers, including me, have trouble starting a book that is extra special, especially a story that has been in our minds and hearts for many years. In those cases, once we actually do write the story, it’s difficult to make others see it the way WE see it. We take it for granted they will understand our story and love it the way we do, but if we don’t do a good enough job getting all that passion and the inner struggles and psychological idiosyncrasies of our characters across to our readers, we will ruin that story that means so much to us.

When I start that truly special story, I’m thinking, “OK, here goes. God, please let me do this right, because this story and its characters mean so much to me.” Not all of our stories come across as exciting or as beautiful or as moving as we see them when we write them. Sometimes I ask myself if I am going too far in making my hero and heroine as wonderful as I see them both. That’s part of the reason there are certain stories I’ve never written. I fear the readers will never understand my characters’ deepest feelings, the reasons they do what they do. They will never understand the passion I feel for the story. And once I let go of the story and give it over to others, I am, in a sense, finally letting go of characters who have lived with me for years and I am leaving them exposed to the whole world. They are no longer just mine. Also,once published, I can never go back and change anything. All the “what if’s” and all the events and other characters I might think of later, who should have been in the story, have no chance of ever coming to fruition.

I have never finished a book that doesn’t haunt me later as far as still questioning whether I did a good job, or whether this or that character should have done or said something differently, or if I should have used a secondary character in a plot twist I ended up not using. Sometimes it’s weeks or months or even years later that I fret over these things. So, as long as I don’t publish the book, I can still “play” with it. I can still change a character or slightly change the plot. I can live with the characters, keep changing some of their dialogue, think about other characters, changes to the plot and story events, the goals and motivations of the characters.I truly don’t want to let go of my story, and sometimes that keeps me from writing that special book in the first place.

This realization hit me over the last couple of days, as I finally decided to write my first full-length contemporary story. I’m not giving away the title of the book because I think it’s different and special. I have lived with this story and its characters since the 80’s, believe it or not. I never wrote it because I didn’t think anyone would want a contemporary story from me. However, it will be pure Bittner style, and I really think my readers will love it because of that. Also, it’s a classic “Indian romance,” similar to my historical Native American romances. The only difference is that it takes place in today’s time. Still, Native American romance is not high on the list of genre priorities – i.e. – most publishers will think it won’t sell all that well and won’t take the book. So be it. If I can’t sell it, I will publish it myself on Amazon.

There is yet another reason I have hesitated to write this book. Publishers will not know how to market it. It’s inspirational, culture clash (modern white vs. Native American culture), suspense, murder mystery, hot sex - in spite of religious facets -a hero and heroine who both come with a lot of “baggage” that could get in the way of their love for each other – a love neither of them wants but feelings they can’t fight. It even involves an opioid addiction, an abusive ex-husband, a dead ex-wife, the American Indian Movement, and embezzlement. Then there is an Ecumenical preacher involved, the D.A.R, and problems on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a heroine afraid to love again, and a hero who can’t let go of his dead wife – the way she died and why she died. And throughout the story, although it’s contemporary, Native American mysticism and ancient culture give the story the feel of a story taking place in the 1800’s.

Is that enough to confuse you? Is it inspirational? Indian/white romance? Suspense? Big women’s fiction? Just plain contemporary romance? I don’t know. Neither will a publisher or marketer. Deeply religious people will enjoy the deep faith involved throughout – but they might be offended by some of the language, crime, and explicit sex involved. Those who love hot sex in their books but aren’t all that religious might not like the religious part of it. However, I can’t worry about those things. I know in my heart that I can mix all these things into a wonderful story. I am tired of trying to decide.  I only know the story keeps kicking me in the rear-end, begging to be written. Yet I know that once I do write it and reach “the end,” it will no longer be just mine, especially once it’s published. It will be available to all my wonderful readers, and it will never again be just mine. That makes me a little jealous of all my readers, who get to move in on my characters and their story, and keep a little of it for themselves. Part of me wants to say, “Give it back! It’s mine! You can’t have this story or my characters. They belong to me.”

But then when the great reader comments start coming in, which I hope will happen, I’ll feel a little better about all of it. After all, I wrote the book, I made the characters come alive and I carried them close to my heart for 30 years. So, in a way the story can never belong to anyone else. 30 years is a long time to hold a story inside your head and your heart. I’ve gone through several scenarios over all these years. I even moved the location of the story. In the beginning it was supposed to take place in Arizona and involve an Apache or a Comanche Indian. I even WROTE THE BOOK under a different title about 25 years ago! But for reasons I won’t go into, that ended up not working. So, I returned to what I know best, the Lakota Sioux … and a woman from New England – two people as far removed from each other in surroundings and up-bringing and culture and life situations as day and night. That’s what I most love writing … nearly impossible situations. How do the hero and heroine manage to come together – and stay together – through turmoil and heartache and pasts that try very hard to keep them apart?

One thing that never, ever changed in these thirty years were the hero and heroine – their names and the basic plot. Never once did I see them in any other way than I did from the very beginning. The only things that changed were some of the story events, the “villain” (so to speak) and the locations involved. I figured I just couldn’t live any longer without sharing these characters and their story. That original book I wrote has disappeared forever. I wrote it before computers and I no longer know what happened to that typed manuscript. That’s probably a good thing. God wanted me to wait until I was a better writer, and He didn’t want me to go back to that first version because it wasn’t quite right.

So, I’m starting over, and once the story is finally “out there” for the world to see, I’ll try not to be jealous of my readers being able to walk into the characters’ lives. I think God means for writers to share their stories. Why else would He plant these ideas in our heads? So, I will write this book, and I will leave it up to God what happens to it. He is telling me to share this story because the very basic plot is beautiful and, I truly believe, it will have a big affect on my readers’ personal faith without being in any way “preachy.” I absolutely love the idea of mixing religious undertones with crime and sex and a faithful person’s inner struggles with their faith. All the things that happen to us in real life that try to destroy that faith are portrayed in this story.

So, “Okay, here goes. God, please let me do this right, because this story and its characters mean so much to me.”


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