by Michael Bailey
So, much to the chagrin of a lot of people, I am a total pantser. In fact, I have a tendency to “know” one of my MC’s at the beginning and not the other. This is primarily because they are usually the first ones to “talk” (yes, these characters talk. Greg is a perfect example of that, and I’ll get to him in a moment.) I initially see different points of the story through that MC’s eyes, but not the whole thing. Typically, it’s not until after that MC has met the other that I get a good idea who that person is.
Certain scenes will be in my head, but I have absolutely no idea how they are all connected. I rely on the characters to lead me. Sometimes the way in which I envisioned a scene is ultimately not how it ends up written. Part of that is because I originally saw the scene from one perspective and the other MC may have seen it differently.
As I said, I don’t know all of the story when I sit down to write. It usually starts with an idea, a concept, or a question. With “Looking In,” I already knew who David was. I knew some but not all of his backstory. I knew, in broad strokes, why he was the way he was.
So I asked myself a question: to a person like David, what would unconditional love look like? And how would the other person need to show it?
There’s a scene in that book where David and Adam are in a fast food restaurant, eating dinner together. David is wearing his customary long-sleeved shirt, which Adam has always found curious. At one point during the conversation, David’s arm shifts slightly, allowing the shirt sleeve to ride up ever slow slightly. This is pivotal for one reason: this is the first time I actually had to debate with one of my characters. I typed that Adam saw the scars on David’s arm, then deleted it. I vividly remember Adam saying, “no, I see them, because those are so much more. More than physical. It’s a metaphor.”
And then I got it.
To David, someone that would be able to give him that unconditional love was someone that would be able to see the scars, both inside and out, and love and accept him anyway.
Greg was a whole different scenario. He took me completely by surprise. He was originally simply nothing more than a name on a page. No character, nothing. I was on my way to work one morning when out of nowhere, he started talking. Greg, it turns out, had a lot to say. He has an enormous amount of guilt he has to work through because he feels that he didn’t do enough to help his brother, Ben, when their father discovered the latter had been researching questioning one’s sexual identity. A massive, physical confrontation followed, and Ben ran away from home in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. To a very large degree, he has “adopted” David as sort of a surrogate brother because of his inability to protect his real brother.
Owen’s story in “Looking Forward” is one I knew well. In fact, I knew what his story was when he was introduced in the first book, much in the same way I know Greg’s and his brother’s. Owen’s story was a bit trickier to tell, however. It didn’t fit what is considered a traditional romance, but I think his story, his voice, fits the overall narrative of what this series of books is about. Yes, I’m being vague about his story, but for a reason. I think that too much information may spoil the story or mislead readers into believing one thing when the opposite is true. Suffice it to say that Owen’s voice was just as loud in my head, perhaps louder with this book, as any other character.