I knew while writing my novel that each of my characters would be broken by a touch. What I didn't know was that one of my characters would touch — and break — me.
It wasn’t my main character, Ben. Ben is the boy next door to Mira and Francesca, the sisters who leap to their deaths before the novel starts. The timeline moves between Ben’s search for the reason for their suicide (led by notes Mira left for him) and Mira’s view of the events leading to the night the girls take their lives.
I love Ben. He’s awkward and damaged and at his core, a noble-minded romantic. He couldn't have more thrown at him: an incident in his past involving a crooked coach; bad blood between his father and Mira’s; and bittersweet memories of a beautiful girl who was impossible to pin down. Yet he’s steadfast in his search for Mira’s truth, and in setting the record straight for her memory, even if it brings down powerful people and makes him enemies. Rather than break my heart, Ben’s final act of love for Mira made my heart swell.
I love Francesca, too. Her body is being wracked by changes she didn't ask for and doesn’t understand. She’s headstrong and passionate, and loves “so hard that it was nearly impossible for anyone to love her back as fiercely.” Her misguided use of her gift is tragic in its own right, but it wasn’t Francesca who left me devastated.
It was Mira. Mira is complex and fascinating: the diametric opposite of the way the boys in the neighborhood see her. Less happens to her than to her sister Francesca, yet her internal life is equally rich. Like Francesca, she wields healing powers after death, and the search she sets Ben on makes him a better person. I fell in love with Mira as hard as Ben did, and she wounded me just as badly, not only because of who she is, but for what she ultimately does.
Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage, $11.68, Amazon
See, the first line of Beautiful Broken Girls wasn’t always this:
“When they found Mira Cillo at the bottom of the quarry lake, her fingers were shot through the loose weave of her sister Francesca’s sweater, at the neck.”
I knew the cascade of events that would drive Mira and Francesca to the edge of the Quarry cliff that night, but not the final outcome. Francesca could have gone alone. Once I started writing, and Mira became a fully developed character, I realized exactly what she would do. Because although Ben and Mira had pure love, interrupted and sweeter for it, the bigger love story here is between Mira and her sister.
Mira is Francesca’s calming force. Her best skill is saying exactly what her sister needs to hear. Francesca sets herself on a dangerous path, and Mira will do “anything to keep Francesca calm; anything to keep her near. Because nothing frightened Mira more than when Francesca moved away from her into that space inside herself and went dim.”
In Ben, too, Mira sees a soul still in need of healing. In her beloved cousin Connie, she sees raw vulnerability and the danger that invites. In Mr. Falso, she sees cause for caution. Mira sees the most clearly of everyone in the novel, but when Francesca hatches a deadly plan, she sees her sister’s mistake and still makes a fatal choice.
I wish Mira used her influence to convince Francesca not to go to the Quarry that night. I wish she told Ben what was happening when it was happening, and not in notes for him to read after her death. I wish she refused to listen to another boy’s terrible lie. But a writer has to give her characters the autonomy they and their story deserves. Sometimes it takes them—and you—to a place you wish it didn’t.
Like Ben, I was touched and broken by Mira. And I’m a better writer for it.