Four words you never want to hear from your agent when you are writing a romance. But I heard them, and it was the best thing anyone has said to me.
I spent months trying to write The Crush Collision. I knew that Jake Lexington was my main character—and I knew him through and through. I have found when I write dual POV, I know one character better than the other. That one, I have to work harder at getting to know. I knew what I wanted the conflict to be, how everything would play out, the plot, the romance, all of it. Yet every time I went to write, I had nothing to say.
How was that possible when I could literally tell the story to someone in my sleep?
I visited and revisited character worksheets. I cried. I restarted the story from somewhere else. I did as much as I could and it felt like I pulled my soul out of my body and crushed it. After about four months, I had basically nothing. I had pieces; I had ideas; I had moments that lead to nothing.
I wanted to quit.
Finally, I sent the pages to my beta reader, and she liked it fine, but she didn’t love it. It didn’t seem perfect to her, and it never felt right to me either, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
It was after this during a frustrated conversation with my agent when she said those four words to me. “They don’t have chemistry.” And all of it clicked.
“Maybe they don’t belong together,” she’d said. That answer, unlike anything I had written so far, felt right to me. We talked some more about who Jake’s love interest could be. The thought of Haley Howell came into my head. Haley, the one side character I didn’t have a plan for yet, and honestly didn’t know much about yet…except that she was his best friend’s sister.
We both knew that was the answer.
I learned a valuable lesson from this. I think as writers we are constantly learning valuable lessons, some we listen to and some we have to learn over and over again before they sink in. I’m a character writer first. I usually spend a lot of time getting to know them and plotting out their stories with them in charge of that direction. I often don’t even know what the story is until they tell me. So, the idea that my romance was wrong, that I was putting the wrong couple together, never crossed my mind.
Yet it happened.
Because of that, The Crush Collision became even stronger than the one I had planned, in plot and especially in the romance. As soon as I started exploring what a romance between Jake and Haley would be like, the story exploded. And in the process, the character I didn’t use, Lyla, has found her own story, one that I am excited to tell next—and it’s the right one.
It just goes to show that you can’t force things into place. They have to come naturally. In theory, you can have all the pieces to make something fantastic (a character, a plot, a conflict, romance, an amazing concept) but if it’s not the perfect combination of every aspect, then you can’t build anything solid.
It’s not the first time I have messed up on a book, or cried in a panic because “my book is broken.” I’m sure it won’t be the last. It was, however, very memorable to me because it took what I thought I had mastered (characters), and showed me that I haven’t mastered anything yet. It reminded me that everyone has room to grow. Especially once we’re pushed out of that comfort zone.
To me, this false comfort is where things like writer’s block are stem from. You’ve done something wrong somewhere, and you need to go back or step away and find out where that is. You need to course correct. To do that effectively, you need to be open to someone saying, “They don’t have chemistry” and instead of viewing it as negative critic, view it as a challenge to find out why. And then, dig in. Tear your story apart and don’t be afraid if it’s not what you thought it would be.
Maybe, in doing that, we will find something even better than all your planning.