Main Character Seeking Plot

My writing ideas tend to start with characters, and that’s especially true for Temper. The main character of Temper came into my life years before I wrote the book. In fact, she started out in a different book entirely.

Back in 2012, I wrote my first-ever novel during National Novel Writing Month. It was a silly, trashy story set in a dystopian version of Chicago, about a Shakespearean actress recruited to seduce the leader of a mercenary army for…okay, I’m sure there were reasons. Mostly the plot was a thin excuse to write gratuitous sex scenes. The book wasn’t very good, but I had a blast writing it.

The main character, Kira, was a brash, sarcastic, unapologetic bitch who wielded her sex appeal as a weapon and didn’t take shit from anyone. She was the fucked-up “unlikable” female character of my dreams, and I loved writing in her voice. While I was collecting well-deserved rejections for that first novel, I plotted out two whole sequels, just because I wanted to spend more time with her. Eventually I put the manuscript aside and tried to work on something else (several somethings), but I couldn’t stop thinking about Kira.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016: the Chicago arts world was rocked by the release of an exposé about an abusive actor/director at a local independent theater. The details were shocking: psychological manipulation, choreographed combat pushed so far it became real violence, sexual assault both off and on stage. As my friends in the community discussed the allegations, I shared their rage and horror. But as a writer who’s drawn to the dark side of human nature, I was also fascinated. I wondered how someone could get away with such brazen abuse for so long. I wondered what it would be like to fall prey to it, the psychological toll it would take.

And then I wondered: how would an actress like Kira respond to a director like that? She wouldn’t run from him, that’s for sure. She’d convince herself she could handle him, twist the situation to her advantage. And she’d probably be dead wrong.

This thought bounced around in my brain for the next month or so. I was feeling pretty hopeless about writing at that point. My work in progress wasn’t going anywhere, and writing it felt like a never-ending slog. In July, my partner and I left for a trip to the UK, which we’d been planning for years. I hoped maybe the change of scene would help, that I’d be able to see my writing more clearly away from my daily grind.

Before our plane landed in Newark to catch our connecting flight, I’d had the idea for Temper, and by the time we arrived in London, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I’d lock my first novel in the trunk for good, but take the best part of it – Kira – and use her in this new book. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was the right story for Kira, so much better-suited to her than my soapy dystopian saga. And it was also the right kind of novel for me: I’d been tying myself in knots, trying on different genres like ill-fitting clothes, but psychological thrillers were what I was meant to write all along.

There was a time I was embarrassed by my first novel, but now I’m grateful for it. It introduced me to Kira, and I can’t wait to introduce her to all of you when Temper comes out next year.

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Layne Fargo

Layne Fargo is a thriller author with a background in theater and library science. She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, a member of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters. Layne lives in Chicago with her partner and their pets.

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This article has 5 Comments

  1. I love this, Layne, and that moment you describe of knowing when you *finally* had the right plot for your character! Writing is so much a process of doubt, which makes those moments of clarity particularly great!

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