My werewolf story, BY THESE TEN BONES, has just been released in paperback. When that story came to me, what I saw was its climax: two young people who are so much in love that each is willing to die for the other. That means romance was crucial to the plot, but I couldn’t just point my two characters at one another and say, “Fall in love!” So I had to get to know them very well and figure out what would made their chemistry happen.
Maddie is a classic hometown girl. She’s never left her tiny village, and she’s not interested in the meager crop of local boys. When Paul, my young woodcarver, comes along, he immediately attracts her attention for the most basic of reasons: he’s a very good looking stranger. So she goes over to strike up a conversation with him.
The mere fact that Maddie acts on her interest like this told me volumes about her. I could see that she hasn’t been in love before and hasn’t been hurt in love. I could see that she has a healthy sense of self-esteem and is used to acting on her curiosity. That means she’s had a happy, well-adjusted childhood in which no one has micromanaged or criticized her.
Paul, on the other hand, won’t come out of his shell; he won’t even look at Maddie in spite of her friendly overtures. This, in turn, told me volumes about Paul: his behavior borders on mental illness. Something terrible is blocking him from communicating with the world around him.
Watching the two of them together, I quickly realized that Maddie has exactly the mixture of boldness and kindness to bring Paul back into society. Even in this very first scene, she instinctively switches to his level by interacting with him wordlessly, reaching out to touch him and tug on the little sculpture he’s carving. Paul has to make a decision to give her the carving or keep it, so Maddie already has him interacting with her whether he likes it or not. The fact that she persists in treating him like a human being rather than a freak means the world to the lonely boy.
I think it’s very important to know what characters are doing and thinking when they’re “off stage,” so I like to follow characters out of a scene and watch what they do when nothing much is happening. That’s doubly important in a romance because most of our behavior when we’re in love comes from the thoughts we have while we’re alone. Maddie’s perspective is the reader’s perspective in 99% of BY THESE TEN BONES, so I could put some of her idle thoughts into the story. The reader learns that, like many a victim of puppy love, Maddie daydreams a background for the handsome woodcarver that is much grander and more rosy than the truth.
What the reader doesn’t know is what Paul is thinking during those first few days, but I was able to bring that knowledge into the book in some subtle ways. For instance, the first word Paul uses when he breaks his stubborn silence is Maddie’s name: “Madeleine!” She corrects him immediately because only the town priest calls her by her full name (which is her saint’s name). Nevertheless, Paul persists in calling her Madeleine, and eventually, Maddie gives up correcting him.
Paul does this because of the thoughts he’s been thinking “off stage.” Even though he’s been doing his best to maintain his emotional shell, he’s already become attached to the sweet, sunny, cheerful girl who has done him the extraordinary kindness of treating him like a human being. He learns her name, Madeleine, during a casual conversation he overhears, and during the long, empty hours, he thinks about her again and again: Madeleine, the only normal, happy element in his strange, hard life. By the time he talks to her directly and she corrects him, it’s too late. She will always be Madeleine to him.
The next (and final) stop on the BY THESE TEN BONES tour is Rebecca’s Book Blog. Be sure to check it out!