The Beating Heart of Stories

“Who was your favorite character to write?” I got asked this a few times about The Vermilion Riddle. It’s a tough question to answer, because I like characters for different reasons – spunky, witty characters are fun to write, while anti-heroes are challenging but rewarding to create. But I find it’s also a tough question because I don’t just like writing specific characters, I love writing relationships. I’m not a fan of lone characters. (If you’re the only survivor in an apocalypse, I’ll pass.) I know there are thought-provoking, well-written stories with a cast of one, but I’m far more drawn to relationships. To me, they are the beating heart of great stories. Ensemble casts have always been my favorite, because you get a range of relational dynamics.

The Vermilion Riddle is, at the core, a story of relationships: between husband and wife, brothers, father and son, father and daughter, friends, enemies, and more. In the midst of adventures, duels, and intrigue, the relationships are the heartbeat of the story. 

Here were a few personal highlights among my favorite relationships to write:

Husband and wife: I might have bit off more than I could chew, since I wrote this while I was single. But I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, and I think every story I write will incorporate some romance, even if it’s not central. In this case, I wanted to explore romance and love in the context of marriage, which I find rare in fiction relative to the drama and fireworks of pre-marriage relationships. I can’t deny that I love a good enemies-to-lovers story, or the tension of a will-they-won’t-they story, or even a (gasp) love triangle done well. But what about love in marriage? For the closest relationship on earth, it doesn’t get quite as much screen/page time. It’s written off as the “happily ever after” that comes post-credits, and I wonder if it’s perceived as too boring or undramatic for a good story. But isn’t that where the real adventure begins? Anyway, Leah didn’t really want to marry August, so I still inserted a healthy dose of drama to kick it off!

Brothers: Again, I’m not a man, and I don’t have a brother, so I’m not writing from personal experience. This is one of the foundational relationships in The Vermilion Riddle, but a lot of August and Benedict’s relationship is not shown through direct interaction, but rather a backstory that is slowly colored in over time. It’s a relationship that’s been marked by betrayal and loss, and it hangs over the entire story. The pain that haunts them both is an unspoken indication of the depth of that relationship – the more you love, the more you hurt. Feeling that brokenness creates a deep longing too for reconciliation and redemption. These are the relationships we desperately want to see made right. While the main climax and resolution to the story was about the large-scale conflict with the Oath-breakers, writing the resolution to this relationship was more cathartic for me. (No spoilers on what that entailed, or even that it was a true “resolution,” but just where I left the two characters by the end of the novel).

Friends: There are a lot of different types of friendship in The Vermilion Riddle, but I’ve always had a soft spot for deep male friendships, which I think is sorely lacking in our world. For intimate friendships between men, our culture immediately imagines romantic undertones. So I had some reservations about writing a friendship that could toe that line in the eyes of some – but I did it anyway. We’ve lost something precious and God-given when men can’t have emotional intimacy and deep love for one another, free of sexual connotation. Benedict and Justin are by no means paragons of virtue, but they have that kind of friendship (and August does too, though I don’t press into those relationships as deeply). We often say “love is blind” and romantic love makes us do stupid things for the sake of the other… can’t a deep love for a friend similarly do that? In a way, I explored the idea of “love being blind” influencing some of the platonic relationships in Riddle, while the romance certainly doesn’t reflect that. (Leah got married with her eyes wide open.)

Father and daughter: Finally, one that I have personal experience with. Father-daughter stories move me in a special way. Leah’s dad is not at all like mine, and I didn’t model him after my dad – but in their relationship, I drew on some of the ways my dad and I relate: the way we easily understand each other without saying much, the irreverent humor in the face of ridiculous social constructs, and the way he protects me when I’m frail and need it most. They’re imperfect, but loving fathers. And there’s a warmth and steadfastness in that, because it’s a mirror of our Heavenly Father. Where friendships fail and romances fizzle out, there’s something in our core that believes a father will love unconditionally no matter what. Even though Leah’s dad isn’t “on screen” for much of the story, their relationship is an anchor in her life.

Interested in knowing more about these characters and how these relationships do resolve? Get your copy of The Vermilion Riddle today!

(I’m back, and I’m still writing! I recently got married, and life is busy, full, but good. After months of wedding planning and exercising the administrative side of my brain, I’m trying to find time for more creative endeavors again, so stay tuned).

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

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