I started writing The Water Cure with a pretty firm grasp on my characters and story. The main character and narrator would be Anne, a no-nonsense doctor and former schoolteacher from Cherokee, North Carolina; the others, her romantic interest Mac and his best friend Stan.
Anne was kind of humorless, all about her work; Stan was the dad-joke-loving comic relief. They would lose their treasured Mac and find a way to work together in all the unexpected decades to come. She had parted ways with her parents over her career change, and was struggling to deal with that loss as well as losing Mac.
The problem was that Anne was no fun to write, and no fun to read. She either didn’t get or didn’t appreciate Stan’s jokes. She was miserable from losing Mac and seemed dedicated to making Stan as miserable as she could while he was genuinely doing his best to help her find her life again after Mac.
It wasn’t working.
I needed a new approach.
And about that time, I met a couple of lovely young, outgoing women downtown who worked together, and guessed their ages (as one does) at about 32-36; something in that range. As it turned out, I think I was right about one, and — overhearing the other divulge her actual age to friends wishing her a happy birthday — I was a decade off and a little more!
It dawned on me that I had mis-guessed her much younger in the same way that other characters would be wrong about my main character — and that she had the charming personality that my main character needed.
I began re-writing. Stan became the humorless character, recovering from much more than the death of his best friend; his nature turned private and secretive. Anne’s name changed, and she became the strength that would help him recover as she did — even to the point of encouraging his latent sense of humor.
Later, as I wrote, and Stan’s character grew, I suddenly realized why Stan had been so secretive, so reserved, and so private about his grief — beyond the loss of his family when he was a young teen. My character surprised me! But once that truth about him came to me, there was no avoiding it. He had to be written that way.
And that worked.