I’ve gotten more than one message from readers who have noticed that Nicola Lancaster, the protagonist of my first book, Empress of the World, doesn’t appear directly in my second, The Rules for Hearts, which is told from the point of view of Battle Hall Davies, the girl Nic falls for in Empress. They ask why, as one recent note put it, I “chose to split them up.”
This might sound strange, I wrote to that reader, but I don’t think of it as being me who ‘split them up’ — it’s just what happened.
Now what exactly did I mean by that? I wondered after I hit “Send.”
I am emphatically not writing thinly disguised autobiography, therefore I’m not working under a journalistic imperative to report “just the facts, ma’am.” And neither do I think, exactly, that my characters just came to life and started doing these crazy things! I can’t control ’em!
But I want to write in a way that feels emotionally true. I think very hard about who my characters are, how they are with each other, the pressures and constraints they’re under, and where they are in their lives. A relationship between two people who:
— have been together for a very short time, in a setting far removed from their “regular” lives
— are taking a lot of demanding classes in their respective senior years of high school
— live hundreds of miles away from each other
…is going to be a huge challenge to maintain, no matter how fierce and intense their love for each other. If you add the fact that one member of the couple is highly analytical and likes to talk everything out at length, and the other prefers to express herself through actions and physicality, the challenge becomes even greater.
Believe me, I have been upset (read: cried buckets) about what happens to characters in the books I love (not to mention television shows; hello, The Wire!). But at the same time, if the author has done the job right, there’s a simultaneous sense of inevitability: Damn. That is what would have happened.
I’m not going to claim I’ve achieved that sense of inevitability in Rules; it’s not for me to assess. But it’s what I always strive for.