Heroines Unleashed

Well, I went in. Deep, deep inside the bowels of my latest novel. And I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out.

The problem lay in the heart of the book: my protagonist. She seemed a little flat, like a singularly untalented actress I’d sent onstage to play out the machinations of the plot. I’d directed every scene without ever really getting to know the star. Imagine if Woody Allen didn’t know what motivated ScarJo, or if Ingmar Bergman didn’t understand what made Liv Ullman tick.

I tackled the problem with a technique Elizabeth Lyons describes in her latest how-to-write book, Manuscript Makeover. She calls it “riff writing,” but it’s more like improvisation – not so much a technique as a lack of conscious technique. The trick is to write freely, without regard to scene goals, grammar, or anything else that might rein in your subconscious. Basically, you sit down and do the Jack Kerouac thing, dumping your subconscious onto the page in great Pollock-y splashes of spontaneity.

So I sat down at the keyboard and typed: My name is Cassie James.”

And kept typing. And typing, letting Cassie tell her own story. I write in first person most of the time, but this was different. I wasn’t writing a novel; I was letting Cassie talk to me in a one-sided conversation that flowed from my subconscious through my fingers onto the keyboard. She revealed details about herself I’d never known – details that gave the book a whole new (and improved) direction. Letting Cassie loose showed me what she really cared about, and that told me what the novel really needed to say.

So Unleashed is now in the recovery room, coming out from under sedation and feeling much more energetic.