In the last hours before college graduation, I was saved from life as an accountant by a continuing education course titled “How to Write a Romance Novel.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being an accountant. It’s just that, for me, the infinite realm of numbers couldn’t possibly compare to the infinite realm of characters.
Numbers can’t surprise you by making bad decisions. Numbers don’t have quirks that make you laugh. (Except for 43,770. For some reason, 43,770 cracks me up every time.)
But “infinite” can feel overwhelming to a writer facing a blank page, and I’m always on the lookout for a new tool to get to know my characters better. I think I found one in Debbie Macomber’s wonderful book, Twenty Wishes. Anne Marie, a young widow, is stuck in a rut of grief and decides to make a list of twenty wishes, hoping this will give her something to look forward to and will restore her positive outlook on life. The bubble wrap popping scene is a hoot! I want to have a party like that.
What would I learn, I wondered, if I did this exercise from the point of view of my characters? What new insights would I gain? I mean, we’re talking twenty wishes here – that’s going to dig pretty deep. And we’re not talking Miss America-style “world peace” kinds of wishes. No, these need to be things the character can impact and achieve. Come to think of it, “world peace” might work as a wish for one of my monarchs. A king can refuse to start a war, right? But not for the everyday folks.