I'm always missing part of the story when I start writing it. Part of my process is waiting for things to click. This might happen by writing and rewriting; by taking lots of long showers; by monologuing in my head while I'm walking to the subway as if I were giving a presentation on a book tour — let me live.
No matter how it happens there's always a moment of clarity when I realize what the story has been missing.
In Sparkwood, it was my great weakness: characters having feelings about their sexuality. I'm not the most introspective person, and I've never grappled with knowing my identity—it's always just been there. So it doesn't always occur to me that my characters might not be as comfortable with their bisexuality as I always have been.
Finn, the main character of Sparkwood, is an aimless twenty-something working as a server in a restaurant. He was a star football player in high school. Oh, and he's bi, and not out about it.
His bisexuality was always just a given to me, and I made the mistake of thinking it was a given to the character as well.
I never thought about what being queer meant to Finn. Finn never thought about what that meant to Finn either, for that matter. And then one day it struck me: he should probably care about his sexuality. Maybe just a little.
Then it all clicked into place. Finn doesn't have a problem with the fact that he's bi. But for Finn, the likelihood of falling in love with a man is so minimal that it isn't worth the trouble of coming out. He saw his twin brother Luke go through all kinds of close-minded BS when he himself came out as bi. Finn decided he would rather squash down that part of himself than deal with potential prejudice.
That was the little nugget of characterization that I was missing, and it added so much to the tension as Finn went on to do what he thought he never would: fall for another guy.
My first book, The Trouble, is an story with a HFN and an aromantic lead, where the conflict isn't about being aromantic.
The main conflict drivers are the characters' personalities: Danny is very laissez-faire, while Jiyoon has a life plan and can't deal with spontaneity. Again, like Finn's sexuality, I treated those aspects of the characters as a given. The story gained so much life when (probably on a long drive) I realized that Danny's attitude comes from having the financial security to experiment. He can risk it all on his rock band and doing something he loves. That privilege makes him behave inconsiderately towards Jiyoon, who doesn't come from a well-off family, and feels like his options are limited.
That is the driving tension between them. Once that clicked into place it felt like so much of the story opened up for me to explore.
The final versions of Sparkwood and The Trouble both contain huge puzzle pieces that weren't even on my radar in draft one.
One of my goals this year is to do a better job planning, and write more thorough first drafts. That's still something I'm committed to.
But I think about these experiences whenever I'm struggling. Writing is like always having a Rubik's Cube going in your mind. Eventually, the pieces will slot into place.