Treading Lightly in the Character’s Heart ~ by Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin is the author of five historical
novels set during World War II, including her latest release, On Distant Shores (Revell, August 2013).
In 2011, Sarah received the Writer of the Year
Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. When she isn’t ferrying
kids to tennis and karate, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and
teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies. You can find her at or on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest

What’s more exciting—and frightening—for a novelist than the blank page, the
new document, a new set of characters?

In a recent blog post on the Books & Such Literary Agency blog, my
agent, Rachel Kent, asked about the processes we go through when we start a new

For me, there’s a certain hesitation. Not because I don’t know what to
write. I’m an outline writer, and the whole story is plotted by the time I
start my rough draft. My first chapter is sketched on a scene list, with key
actions, dialogue, and emotions all listed.

But when I open that new document, I pause.

The hesitation comes from the reverence of entering the core of my
character’s heart. For years I’ve gotten to know her. I’ve filled out character
charts and given her a personality test and recorded important stories from her
past. I know full well how she talks and thinks and reacts. If this is the
second or third book in a series, I’ve already shown her as a side character. I
know her.

Yet I only know her from the outside, like a dear friend. This knowledge
comes from observation, from what she’s told me, and from asking probing
questions to understand why she does what she does. But it’s still external

Something about the actual writing changes the relationship, internalizes it.
Now it feels real.

Starting the first chapter, I stand at the threshold to her heart. I don’t
have the right to be there. After all, I’m going to record her story and spew
it out for complete strangers to read. I ask her politely if I may enter. She
eyes me warily. Can she trust me to record her thoughts and emotions with
compassion and understanding? Can I trust her to reveal every bit of herself,
the pretty and the ugly?

For the first few pages we both tread lightly. I look out from her eyes for
the first time, perceive the

world as she does, and sense the depth of her
thoughts and attitudes. It feels awkward and uncomfortable to me. And she acts
awkward too, perhaps acting nice for company and tidying up the clutter.

As I begin to write, I feel like an imposter. Is this her voice—or mine—or
the most recent character I wrote about?

Something shifts by the end of the first chapter. I’ve treated her with
respect, and she decides I’m worthy of her trust. She grants me the right to
live inside her head for the next several months.

And perhaps that isn’t wise of her. I’m going to put her through danger and
heartbreak and loss and drama. I’m going to put her in situations where her own
resources will not be enough. I’m going to challenge her to change and become a
better person and turn her life over more completely to the Lord. But I do
promise her—always—a happy ending.

How about you? Do you ever hesitate on that first page? Do you sense an
awkwardness with your character? Or do you dive in, completely comfortable in
your character’s head from the start?

On Distant Shores

Caught between the war raging around them and the battles within, two souls long for peace–and a love that remains true.
Lt. Georgiana Taylor has everything she could want. A boyfriend back home, a loving family, and a challenging job as a flight nurse. But in July 1943, Georgie’s cozy life gets more complicated when she meets pharmacist Sgt. John Hutchinson. 

Hutch resents the lack of respect he gets as a noncommissioned serviceman and hates how the war keeps him from his fiancée. While Georgie and Hutch share a love of the starry night skies over Sicily, their lives back home are falling apart. Can they weather the hurt and betrayal? Or will the pressures of war destroy the fragile connection they’ve made?

With her signature attention to detail and her talent for bringing characters together, Sarah Sundin weaves an exciting tale of emotion, action, and romance that will leave you wanting more.