Friday, March 4, 2016

Character Driven Novels

Character Driven Novels 
by Susanne Matthews 

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to make my very first blog post here at the Highway Café. I officially became a writer in February 2013 when I sold my first manuscript to Crimson Romance Publishers. Since then, I’ve published fourteen novels, five short stories, and three sci-fi episodes. I have a new novel due out in November and two others which will also be completed and released this year. There may be other stuff written and published by the end of 2016, but that’s what’s currently on my to-do list. It’ll change and I know more will come, but right now, that’s a secret my characters are keeping.

I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I taught high school English for more than twenty-five years, and know the writing process inside out and backwards, so imagine my surprise when I realized I can’t write that way. Most of the experts say you need to have a plot outline, a synopsis, detailed character sketches, goals, motivation, and conflict statements, and all other manor of writing and organizational aids, but when I tried to write that way, I hit a brick wall.

I’ve spent many hours reading books written by writing coaches and other experts, trying to figure out why, with so many years’ experience teaching others the importance of planning, writing, and revising, I simply can’t do it. I’ve come to a strange conclusion, one some of you may understand. I spent twenty-five years deconstructing books, short stories, and poems. That’s right. I took them apart. I didn’t put them together. I’m fantastic at doing all of those things for my own books; unfortunately, I do it after the book is finished.

So, if I don’t write the way the experts suggest, how do I do it?

I listen to the voices in my head. To anyone who isn’t a writer, that sounds crazy—maybe it is—but characters live in my imagination and when they’re ready to tell their stories, they tell me what to write. I may have nothing in mind when I sit at the keyboard, or I may have a faint idea. It could be a title that’s been flitting around in my head, the name of a particular character, an idea, an image, or a situation. I’ll picture a place, imagine the character in that situation, and just start typing.

As the words appear on the screen, the characters become real, fleshed out, and their personalities develop as their story unfolds. For me, it’s as if I’m watching it all as it happens. I don’t know from one moment to the next where the characters will take me, what events will occur to confuse and complicate their lives, or how they’ll be able to overcome the obstacles that arise. Within the first few pages, two things will become clear to me—the type of story I’m writing and how it will end. Since all of my books are romance, you can count on a happily ever after or a happy for now, but everything else is up to the characters.

All of my work has been done that way, driven by the characters I create to suit the situation. Fire Angel, my first novel, was born in a series of unsolved arson cases in this area. In Plain Sight, my second book, was born at a church rehearsal for a Good Friday play in which I had the role of Mary Magdalene, and was less than thrilled with the costume, which reminded me of a beach cabana. Echoes of the Past was my reaction to the Mohawk myth concerning the Lake of the Mountain near Picton in Prince Edward County. The Price of Honor, my Canadian historical romance, is loosely based on my own ancestor who came to New France in 1661 to protect the colonists from the Mohawks, and stayed on a land grant when the regiment was disbanded.

The Harvester Series, The White Carnation, The White Lily, and The White Iris started out as one book meant as a thank you to old friends who supported my writing efforts. Faye, the main character, was fashioned after my best friend, but she quickly took on other characteristics, and as she did, the story expanded and grew with more twists and turns than I’d ever imagined.

Writing character driven novels the way I do isn’t the easiest way to write a story, but for me, it’s the way that works. I suppose it’s like riding a horse and giving it its head, letting it take me on the ride of a lifetime. I don’t know where I’m going, but man, what a thrill!

How long will I be able to do this? I don’t know. As long as my health holds out and there are stories waiting to be told, I’ll keep at it. Who knows where my characters will lead me next?

About Susanne
Amazon bestselling author Susanne Matthews was born and raised in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. She is of French-Canadian descent. She’s always been an avid reader of all types of books, but with a penchant for happily ever after romances. A retired educator, Susanne spends her time writing and creating adventures for her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love. Not content with one subgenre, Susanne writes romance that ranges from contemporary to sci-fi and everything in between. She is a PAN member of the Romance Writers of America as well as a member of the Trans Canada Romance Writers Group. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, or traveling to interesting places she can use as settings in her future books. In summer she enjoys camping with her grandchildren and attending various outdoor concerts and fairs. In winter, she likes to cuddle by the fire and watch television.

The White Iris, Book Three of The Harvester Series 
     Time's running out for Special Agent Trevor Clark and his FBI task force. They're no closer to uncovering the identity of the Prophet, a dangerous serial killer who has been murdering new mothers and vanishing with their infants. If Trevor can't unlock the clues, the killer's threat to unleash what the FBI suspects is biological warfare could mean death for all of them. His only recourse is to swallow his pride and reach out to his former fiancée, the CDC's renowned virologist, Dr. Julie Swift. 
     Two years ago, Julie ended their engagement after Trevor abandoned her when she needed him most. Now, faced with the possibility of the greatest epidemic since the Spanish flu, she has to put her faith and her safety, as well as that of countless others, into the hands of a man she doesn't trust. Can they set aside their differences to stop the Prophet, and in doing so, will they find the love they lost?
     From the streets of Boston to the wilds of Alaska, this thrilling conclusion to the Harvester Series takes several turns you won't see coming!


  1. Susanne, I listen to those voices in my head too! lol! The characters come alive and want their story told. Nice cover for The White Iris. Great post!

    1. Sometimes when they refuse to speak to you, it can be frustrating! lol

  2. Hi Susanne: Kudos on having published so many novels, what an achievment. Glad I'm not the only one who enjoyes writing in various time periods and place. Interesting and inspiring post.

    1. Thank you. I suppose writing in different subgenres gives me an outlet depending on my mood. It's amazing how I can torture characters if I'm feeling angry, but I guess it's better than taking it out on live ones.

  3. Kudos on listening to the voices in your head. Best way to write.

  4. I love the fact you recognized your own style and it works. Probably 25 years of dealing with story structure helped.