How a story begins: “I’m getting to know a character named Florence” #bittersweethalloween #writingtips #beginnings

This week, in the More Than A Guilty Pleasure class, we’ve talked about acts, scenes, and characters and I’d like to share with my class, and with you, how I get to know a character.

For me, stories usually start with a question, a “what if.” But this story started with Florence. In the class, when we discussed describing characters–how much should you tell your readers about WHAT your character looks like–I made it clear my preference is to sketch that physical picture as lightly and fuzzily as possible. Frankly, most of the time–I want the READER to see HERSELF as the character (do with the pronouns as you will).

But Florence… I knew, from the beginning, Florence was going to be a redhead.

Before I set pen to paper–or rather, finger to keyboard–I had been carrying the idea of Text Me, Cupid with me for a few weeks. I knew—her name was going to be Florence. Him, I called Will, as placeholder more than anything (note to self and future writers: be careful with those placeholders! They tend to stick!). They were going to meet via OkCupid, and he’d fall madly in love with her and she’d want to have nothing to do with him. Why? I had no idea. She was just… contrary like that.

They would meet, he’d want her, she’d be elusive (as we all want to be and too often aren’t) and… they’d have a series of misadventures… and? What else?

It was an idea… not really a story.

I first put it to paper in August 2016, during a Twitter writing sprint with yyc writer and fellow member of the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association, Brandy Ackerley. This is what came out, and I’m happy (and a little frightened) to share a raw first draft with you.

Enjoy.

* * *

I am trying to get to know a character named Florence. No, that’s wrong. Florence, I know intimately, I can see her so clearly… and I can see how the story begins. Florence and Will—but I need to change his name, I know too many Wills, and the associations will wreck havoc on the one I am imagining—are in Café Blanca. She gets there first—she always gets places first. She sits in the spot that I think of as my office away from home—home away from the office. She also sits in the “masculine spot”—did you know, by the way, that that’s a thing? I didn’t, until I went out for drinks with a Persian boy who made me switch spots.

“That’s the guy’s place,” he said.

“Really?” I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“Back to the back to the room, eyes to the front—you see who’s coming and going—it’s the place of control.”

“Really?” I said. Still sitting. I looked around—yes. I had the vantage point—I could see everyone and anyone who came into the bar, who approached our table.

“Is that where you usually sit?” he asked me. I had to think about it, but the answer was, of course… yes.

“See, I’ve only known you for five minutes, and I already know you like to be in control,” he said. “We’re going to change that.”

^^^I like where that is going, too. But that’s not part of the story I’m massaging today. But, it will be part of another story, one day—and it is already, always part of mine.

So. Florence. Café Blanca. She’s sitting with her back against the window, with a view of the café. And she’s there first. She sees him come in…

…but all of that will unfold in their conversation… The way the story will start on paper, what the reader will first see is this:

“This is not going to work out,” she said.

“What?” I flinched. “What did you say?”

“This is not going to work out,” she said. “Don’t you think?”

It’s been 10 minutes. I’ve been sitting opposite this woman for 10 minutes… and already? This?

“I thought it was going rather well,” I said. Stupid. Awkward. Shouldn’t have said anything. Should be silent.

“Oh, you’re very sweet,” she said. Smiled. Fuck. Beautiful smile—I loved her smile. “And cute,” she added, leaned across the table, made incredible eye contact that made me…

“But it’s not going to work out,” she said. Smiling. And looking into my eyes.

What the fuck?

“Say it,” she invited me.

“What?”

“You just thought something angry. Obscene?” she asked. Eyebrows up. “Did you call me a bitch? Or something worse?”

“I just thought… ‘what the fuck,’” I said. “I thought… I thought it was going quite well. This.”

“It is,” she smiled. “You’re sweet. But it’s not going to work out. I already know.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because,” she smiled—fuck, why did she keep on smiling? I needed her to stop smiling so I could hate her. “Because,” she smiled again, “you’re sweet. And I’m not.”

Here’s the screen shot of that first draft, so you can see I gave it to you straight.

* * *

It would be another ten months before Text Me, Cupid existed as anything more than this sketch. But making this sketch was an important first step—I’d occasionally pull it out, re-read it… scrunch up my nose and relive that scene in Cafe Blanca… wonder what would happen next… imagine Florence and Will in a little more detail…

And by the time I finally sat down to write Text Me, Cupid in June 2017… I knew EXACTLY who they were, what they wanted… and how they were going to get it.

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WANT MORE?
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But, as I’ve said before, I don’t recommend starting the Text Me, Cupid adventure with Episode 3, so if you want to catch up with Will and Florence:

BUY MESSY CHRISTMAS Amazon // Everywhere Else (Episode 1)
BUY DELAYED VALENTINE Amazon // Everywhere Else (Episode 2)

Or, you can wait until Text Me, Cupid splashes EVERYWHERE in December.
+ more info about TEXT ME, CUPID

I’m good either way. 😉 See you tomorrow at 4 am for the writing prompt, yeah? I’m so proud of y’all for doing your homework.

Kisses,

mjanecolette

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About mjanecolette

Writer. Reader. Angster. Reformed Bohemian (not). Author of the erotic romance Tell Me, the erotic tragedy (with a happy ending) Consequences (of defensive adultery), the award-winning rom-com (she's versatile) Cherry Pie Cure, and the just released TEXT ME, CUPID--a (slightly dirty) love story for 21st century adults who don't believe in love... but want it anyway. A sought-after speaker and present, Colette is also the author of the non-fiction collection of essays Rough Draft Confessions: not a guide to writing and selling erotica and romance but full of inside inside anyway, and the curator of the fab YYC Queer Writers anthologies Queer Christmas in Cowtown and Screw Chocolate. Coming in 2019: Once Upon A Queer Summer Night's in Cowtown.

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