When your characters talk back to you

Sometimes romance comes with wine and roses. Source: theunlocker.co.uk
Sometimes romance comes with wine and roses. Source: theunlocker.co.uk

I SAT DOWN and carefully surveyed the scene.

The tavern was dark. A single candle had been placed on the table.

The light flickered. The wax had been burned down to a nub.

George leaned back in his chair and smiled.

He was wearing a gray sports coat, black trousers, and black turtleneck sweater.

His grin was confident.

George had not been able to take his eyes off the lady sitting across the table.

Debbie was at least fifteen years younger than he. She was small, almost petite.

Her hair was as black as the room around her. Her gown was red. A diamond necklace sparkled in the candlelight.

Debbie smiled as if she something George didn’t. She probably did.

I wrote:

George leaned forward, took her hand in his and said, The Black Jack Tavern is such a great place to be tonight. You know it was once owed by a mob boss, but that was in a different era, probably around 1934. As you will notice, the ambiance has not changed. I am so glad you agreed to meet me here, although I’m sure it has greatly interfered with your work schedule, you being a doctor and all. But it has been six years since my wife died, and I am a terribly sad and lonely man. I brought you a dozen roses. I hope you like them. There is one rose for each month of the year, but I hope to see you more than once a month. You are such a beautiful young woman, and I often believe that my heart stops a beat every time I look at you.

George suddenly stopped talking. He frowned. He jerked his head around and stared at me. His eyes were dark. And menacing.

He slammed his fist on the table.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked.

“Writing a novel.”

“And I’m in it?”

“You’re the hero.”

“But you don’t know a damn thing about me.”

“I created you,” I said.

“Then you should know.”

“Know what?”

“I don’t talk like that.”

George ripped the pen out of my hand and threw it angrily across the room.

“Are you gonna hit me?” I asked him.


“I bleed easily.”

“Shut up and pay attention,” he said.

I nodded.

He turned back to Debbie.

The red gown was gone.

Instead, she was wearing a blue suit with blue high heels.

Her hair was cut short.

She might have been younger than George, but not much.

She had a quizzical smile on her face.

“I’m glad you could meet me here tonight,” he said.

He poured them both a glass of wine.

“This isn’t a business meeting is it,” she said.

He shook his head.

“Not unless you want it to be,” he said.

“I’m curious.” Debbie ignored the wine.

“How long have we worked in the same building.”

“Three years, I guess.” Debbie shrugged. “Maybe longer.”

“I was attracted to you the first day I saw you.”

“I assumed you were married.”


“You are wearing a ring.”

“Widowed,” he said. “I lost Annie six years ago next month. I thought about taking the ring off, but some things are hard to do.”

Debbie’s voice softened.

“I’m sorry.”

“We do what we have to do to keep going.”

Debbie studied George for a moment.

His head was down. He stared at the candle.

Finally she asked, “Is this a date?”

“I don’t know what it is,” George told her. “I saw you this morning and had the urge to invite you for a glass of wine.”

“I could have said no.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Like I said. I’m curious.” Debbie’s laughed softly. “Why did you ask me to meet you, and why, of all places, did you invite me to the Black Jack Tavern?”

“I thought I could trust you.”

“You can.”

“I thought you might be willing to help me if I ever needed help.”

The laughter left her eyes. “What about.”

“I asked you here because the tavern is owned by Jack Mahoney.”

“Don’t know him.”

“His granddaddy was with the mob back in the 1930s.”

“So why should we care?”

George drained the last sip of wine from his glass and took a deep breath.

“I think he killed my wife,” he said.

A tear moistened his eyes.

Debbie’s hands trembled.

I raised an eyebrow.

George turned back to me and spit out his words. “That’s how you tell a story,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Stay the hell out of the way, and let the characters tell it for you.”

George and Debbie walked out of the tavern, arm in arm.

I glanced back at the table.

There were no roses beside the wine bottle.

Maybe there never had been.

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