All three main characters in Rhoda Baxter’s new novel Please Release Me [published today] are stuck in some way. Sally, the heroine, is stuck in a coma but able to hear the world around her. Have you been mentally stuck, like this, or stuck physically in a place you don’t like, a job you hate, or a relationship past its sell-by date?
How am I stuck?
I’ve been stuck, recently, still am a bit. Mine is a writing dilemma. How much of a character’s backstory to give away, and when? Telling [nearly] all at the beginning of the novel [my second, Connectedness, sequel to Ignoring Gravity] might help my readers to identify with my new protagonist, artist Justine Tree. But, and it is a big but, how do I balance the needs of a) not giving away too much information about Justine’s student days [below, top]; and b) telling enough about her to make the dilemma of the adult Justine [below, bottom] interesting, while c] maintaining intrigue to keep the reader reading? As a reader, I dislike [I typed ‘hate’ and then deleted it, as it seemed a bit harsh]… I dislike novels where the author puts everything on a plate, where I am told the character’s whole back story, exactly how they feel about things, leaving nothing for me to work out. That is a suspense-killer. But I also dislike characters not sufficiently sketched, vague, where relevant facts are hinted at so subtly that I miss them. This means I don’t connect with the character, so any tension intended by the author drifts over my head and is wasted.
Difficult, isn’t it? So, what should I do?
Tell all at the beginning:-
Pride and Prejudice. Austen shows us all the twists and turns of Elizabeth Bennet’s character from the beginning, this makes us love her. The element of tension is added by Darcy, who is an unknown quantity, we never hear his viewpoint, and his behaviour is often contradictory. But, we do see both characters observed in situations by other characters, and in dialogue.
Indulge myself, divert away from the main story to tell a character’s back story:-
I love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but at the beginning of book two, The Girl Who Played with Fire, there is an almighty sideline from the main story. Lisbeth in the Caribbean, the hurricane on Grenada, George Bland, the mysterious American couple. It’s a great self-contained story, but does it add anything to the major Salander/Blomkvist storyline? No, except it shows Lisbeth’s mathematics ability, her dislike of men who bully women, and her lack of fear at taking action. But we knew all of these things already.
Keep my character’s secrets:-
The Betrayal by Laura Elliot, my review will be published here next week. This is a well-written book with, for me, one weakness. The build-up of tension is unsatisfactory, I think because we miss hearing the voice of the stalker/ex-friend Karin. Difficult, when the author tells her story through the voices only of Nadine and Jake. What other technique would help?
So, how exactly am I stuck with Connectedness? Like Ignoring Gravity, it is the story of adoption reunion. In 1982, art student Justine is pregnant, alone in Spain, no boyfriend, no money, lost. She gives her baby away. Three decades later she wants to find her daughter and charges Rose Haldane with the task. A key figure in Justine’s post-student years, when she establishes herself as an artist, is an elderly Russian lady Darya Kushkupola [below]. As I developed Darya’s character, she grew and grew into a real, rounded person. I found myself writing scenes of her Russian childhood which make her seem like a real person to me, her upbringing in Russia and the Second World War make her the adult she is, her background also influences the advice she gives Justine. But, what do they add to Justine’s search for her daughter? Should I stick to Justine, and lightly sketch Darya’s character? What do you think?
Please Release Me
So, what is Please Release Me about, and why are Rhoda’s characters stuck?
What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after…
For more about Rhoda Baxter’s other books, click here.
‘Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter [UK: ChocLit]
Published today. Buy it here.