The Lost Girl
When I wrote my novel Windmills, I screwed up. One of the keys to good writing is control over your material and, as I’m just starting out, I’m bound to make mistakes here and there and Windmills has a big, unsatisfying subplot hanging over it. That is the story of Charlotte Laurent, the wife of antagonist Dominic Ford and the best friend of protagonist Lucy Nicholson. She is a major character in her own right and a huge part of the plot. And yet, while pretty much every other character in the book gets a proper conclusion to their story, Charlotte is left dangling. The last we hear of her is that she ran away from her murderous husband on Lucy’s advice, and that’s it. She has no role in the final endgame or the overall conclusion of the novel, and the reason for this is simple; the ending of Windmills was planned years in advance and, in fact, years before Charlotte even became a character in the novel. She never existed in the first draft, and while I certainly feel like the book is stronger for her involvement, there was no natural way to fit her in at the end. So I cut my losses, had her vanish and consequently almost everybody who reads Windmills has one big question for me at the end; what the hell happened to Charlotte?
On one level, I kind of like the ambiguity. Back when I was trying to potentially write a sequel to Windmills, every plot I came up with revolved around Charlotte. What would she do next? When she learnt that Dominic was dead, would she come for revenge? Would she become a danger to Leo and Lucy? Dramatically, this made sense, but in terms of character? It would mean warping and mutating Charlotte from who she really was into a pantomime villain more like her late husband. Charlotte left Dominic of her own choice, did not warn him or try to figure out why she should run. She just left. She did not want to be with him anymore. The truth of it was, I just couldn’t bend Charlotte to my will and make her a bad guy, because it’s not who she is. She’s a confused, scared girl who made bad choices based on feelings for a dangerous man. Flawed? Certainly. Malevolent? No.
So Charlotte would not be the core of a Windmills sequel, which is good because it meant that I didn’t push through with the bad idea of writing a follow up. But it did not change the fact that Charlotte does not have a satisfying conclusion to her story. And deeper than that, I was curious to know what happened to her. How would she react to learning about Dominic’s death? Where would she go, what would she do? The more I thought about it the more I wanted to know. Finally, I decided to write a little short story, just to see what happened.
That story is now finished, and I had an absolute ball writing it. It comes in at about 10,000 words; a fairly decent length for what is essentially an epilogue. I was scared that I would use it as an excuse to revisit Leo and Lucy, but it turned out that Charlotte had enough to her to make the story completely hers. This does not belong to anyone else but Charlotte. This is the story that I owed her, the conclusion she deserved.
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