*Warning—If you haven’t read Beyond the Western Sun and want to, then don’t read this post. If you don’t mind possible spoilers (no outright spoilers, just nods to the first book), then by all means, keep on reading!*
I’ve reached the point in my book to where self-doubt has set in. This always happens when I’m almost ready to say “done,” which means no more changes, no more edits, just the final published form. I actually can’t go back and read my books once they are printed because I’m terrified of finding errors or having an “I wish I had” moment where I suddenly want to change something. So instead, I say good-bye to my book as soon as it’s bound. It’s both an exciting and heartbreaking moment, exciting because I have a finished work I’m proud to call my own, heartbreaking because the characters, the story, are no longer just my own and it’s time to let them just be free. I think this is why I love to write books in a series—I can stay with my characters, get to know them better, let them live a little longer.
If it sounds crazy, well maybe it is. The truth is, my characters are my best friends. While I do essentially become them, in a way, I also befriend them. They are their own people, and that can be troublesome at times. When I was writing BTWS, Whisper got away from me for a bit. I had every intention of making her this beacon of light and goodness, a shining example of how to overcome your fate and fight against your bloodline. Whisper had other ideas about who she wanted to be. I let her walk her own path for awhile but she ended up turning a bit too evil for me, so I had to rein her back in. We struggled back and forth for a bit and I let her have some control, but ultimately she ended up right where I wanted her to be.
What resulted was a character I fell in love with, one that I wish I could be in real life. I love her strength and conviction, her steadfast faith in who and what she is. From the very beginning, I had the scene of her killing that certain character by the end in my head but how she did it was completely different. When that time actually came, she was much more forceful and confident than I had originally imagined. It suited her perfectly and I love how she evolved from what I first pictured to who she is in BTWS.
Whisper is a character very close to my heart. She is the kind of person I hope to reflect, one who knows what she believes in, and isn’t afraid to believe it. One who is comfortable with who she is, even when others tell her that what she believes is ridiculous, blasphemous, stupid. But more, she is a person who isn’t afraid of her fate and faces destiny with squared shoulders and her head held high. Whisper takes charge, forges her own Red Road. These are the things I need to keep in mind for my own life.
Because Whisper means so much to me, I’m terrified of ruining her in Walk the Red Road. Sometimes I wonder if all authors have this fear, of saying just the wrong thing or writing just the wrong scene that completely goes against the character’s nature and ruins him/her. I really, really don’t want Whisper and Hunting Hawk to turn into Ayla and Jondalar in the end, because Holy Hera that ending hit me like a punch in the gut and completely broke my heart. I still haven’t recovered. I don’t want that for my readers, I want my characters to stay true to themselves and grow, while not disappointing people.
In the same light, I’m afraid of ruining the story as a whole. What if it doesn’t live up to BTWS? What if it’s not as exciting, or as interesting, or the stories/legends I chose to tell aren’t as intriguing? Or am I just over-thinking everything?
Part of the problem is that I’m always sad when nearing the end of the story. It’s time to close this chapter of the series, which is always a bit of a downer for me, and time to share the story with others, which is always nerve-racking. But at the same time it’s a good feeling, so I’m constantly conflicted—kind of how Whisper is constantly torn between the two parts of her self. It’s hard to remove yourself fully from the story when you’ve been immersed in it for so long, and readjust your sights on the real world when you now have to market the story instead of live it. Two completely different parts of the same book, two entirely different demands that ultimately join together as one.
I just have to remember, this isn’t the end of the story as a whole, but just one more part of an overall adventure.
And what an awfully big adventure it is.