What happens when an unreliable character pops into your head?
By Kaira Rouda, author of Best Day Ever
The short answer: you write his story.
Here’s what happened to me. Last summer I was working on the first book in what would be a women’s fiction series at the request of my agent. You see, with the exception of one of my previous novels, my books were considered women’s fiction, even though some of my themes tended to be a little on the dark side. My agent was convinced my audience, and my skill set were perfect to write a sweet, contemporary story with an ensemble cast that would lead into a fun, three-book series. So that’s what I did. While I was waiting for her to read the second draft of the first book, Paul Strom arrived. Literally, popped into my head. I tried to ignore him. But I couldn’t. So I sat down and wrote his story. It didn’t take long, not in the traditional sense of novel writing. His voice was persistent and strong. Two months later, I had finished the first draft.
When I told my agent I’d written Best Day Ever, a domestic suspense novel with a male protagonist, she told me she doesn’t read male protagonists written by women. She told me I need to focus on women’s fiction because that’s my brand and that she’d have the second round of edits back soon. I put Paul away, tucked the manuscript into a folder on my computer, and returned to my series. But Paul was still on my mind. During a conversation with my friend and beta reader Andrea, she told me to send her Best Day Ever. I told her not to bother, that the book wasn’t on brand for me. She persisted and I sent her the manuscript. Andrea read Best Day Ever overnight and pushed me to ask my agent to read it. This time, she agreed. And, well, here we are… my first traditionally published, psychological suspense. All because of Paul.
Paul’s singular, strong voice made the process of writing Best Day Ever both surprisingly fast, and exceedingly creepy. When you have a guy like Paul talking to you day and night, well, it can be overwhelming to say the least. And to say the least, Paul isn’t a nice man. At his worst, he is a murderer. The fun of an unreliable narrator, when writing, is understanding the layers of his lies. Paul reveals himself slowly, but methodically. He wants the reader to like him, to enjoy spending time with him, to trust him. Of course, to do that, he must lie. He must seem to be something he is not.
Despite the fact he isn’t a reliable guy, I hope you enjoy reading Best Day Ever. And my takeaway? If a character pops into your head, fully formed, write his or her story.
Best Day Ever
Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he's the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That's why he's planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.
But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and towards the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really? How much do they trust each other? Is Paul the person he seems to be? And what are his secret plans for their weekend at the cottage?...