Here’s a basic truth I learned about fiction writing itself (and about how not to write a failed novel): When your characters tell you they don’t want to do something, listen. Don’t make them do something when they’re screaming No!
In my failed novel (at least the one I’ve written most about here), my plot, to which I was inextricably wedded, required my two main characters to have passionate, illicit sex about three quarters of the way through the book. I spent many lives trying to get them to the point where that moment felt right. It never did, but I stomped my foot and made them do it anyway.
At the time, I thought I was writing about how the drives of sex in combination with desperate emotional need could cause people to act irrationally, to get in all kinds of trouble when they knew better. Since I consider this tendency a basic human truth, you’d think my characters would have said, “Sure, we get what you want people to think. Stand back.” But the book’s critics–and the important reviewers were definitely critics–called the actions of my male protagonist “stupid.” Actually, he thought so, too.
My editor told me, “The chemistry feels wrong.” I knew she was giving me good advice: it was wrong. But I was lost in a project beyond my then-powers (possibly beyond any powers I’ll ever have), and I was working in total isolation.
Working in total isolation: that’s Thing Not To Do #2.