For writing conventions, I've got a workshop called Writing Witches, about how to create realistic Pagan characters. But in this blog, I'm talking about Writing Bitches, because that's what I'm trying to do right now.
Constance Evershaw is the main character in my novel-in-progress, The Evershaw Century. Mae Haley is one of the other characters. Mae and Cons are the titular bitches here, and at this point, the only surviving main characters. Here's the scene in which Meade Trevalian, Cons' late-in-life husband, dies. He's 99 years old, so I knew he'd have to die soon, but I didn't intend this to be his death scene.
One serene afternoon early in June of 1949, the delicate fragrance of some late blooming apple trees drifting down to mingle with the fresh scents of the riverbanks grasses and wildflowers, Cons looked up from her canvas to find Meade watching her with a faint smile on his face. They’d had help getting her easel and canvas, and chairs for both of them, down to this spot. Poppy’s great-great grand-nephew would be along shortly to start carrying things back up.
“When I die,” she said to him, “I should like to be buried here, near that bench, with only a small stone – polished marble, I think – to mark my grave.”
“And I beside you, when the time comes,” he answered her. She wasn’t being maudlin, or prophetic in any way. She was only appreciating the beauty and peace of the place. Happily, she’d been able to capture it in some of her paintings.
“Yes.” She paused. “But not for many more years,” she added. “I’d like to turn this Evershaw century into at least two, wouldn’t you?”
He nodded. “If you go back to, oh, let’s say your third great grand-aunt Mariah, it’s already been two-and-a-half Evershaw centuries.”
She smiled, and Meade thought she looked beatific when she did. “Yes, but I mean my Evershaw century. I don’t want it to end.”
“It hasn’t yet,” he said. “Maybe it never will.” He closed his eyes, enjoying the warm sun on his face and the image of his beloved’s smile in his mind’s eye, and left Cons’ century behind.
She felt him go, like a fading hug, but she finished another few brushstrokes before she turned. On the canvas, his eyes were open, and he was smiling. She had painted him from her undimming memory of their wedding day.
Now, according to my outline, Cons and Mae are gonna have one last adventure, a train trip from Boston to L.A. I did some research so I could write that trip accurately, and I was ready to draft it today ... but Cons and Mae were not. They are apparently still thinking about ... what they want to see? How they want to interact with other passengers? What they want to do when they get to California? It is not - and I will state this for the record - my intention for either of them to die on the train, or in California (or anywhere else they stop), but I am not sure that I can trust either of them not to decide to do just that. I have already had to chuck the first ending I drafted (which I liked pretty well), but I am hoping that Cons and Mae let me have some input into the story's ending.
When I first started writing (and I'm not sure I should even call it "writing," what I was putting on paper back then), I was happy for my characters to take my stories where they would, and they generally took my stories into blind alleys. Nowadays, I outline (using the term loosely) my plots, and generally only consider suggestions from my characters. It's fine if they correct me as to details - oh, strawberry, not vanilla? - but I expect to be in control of the plot myself, and frankly, not to deviate too far from my outline. If I myself have what I think is a better idea, that's one thing, and I've altered many a plot for that reason. But it's been a long time since I've been down with my characters reaching in and fiddling with the controls the way Cons and Mae are doing, per Meade's example.
I did mean for Cons to be a Strong Female Character - as are most of the other women in this story - but I didn't mean for her to be stronger-willed than me! Wish me luck!