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Archive for the ‘Character development’ Category

Have you ever spent a lot of time plotting out a story, complete with a timeline and outline, only to have your characters hijack it? This happened with the first story in my YA fantasy series, set in my world of Pentallia. I spent months outlining, drawing up character sheets, and writing out scenes in a concise timeline, only to have my three main characters take my work and pitch in the garbage. 

That first story was written in first person POV, and frankly, it didn’t work, for me, the characters, or the first publisher I sent it to. I’m currently rewriting it, in third person, and without an outline. My characters don’t respect those. I’m also planning to go the indie author route, with help from Wicked Whale Publishing. 

But back to those characters who laughed at my huge binder of work. I still have it, but broke it down into multiple smaller notebooks and four Pinterest boards specific to their world. I refer to those things when my characters, my people, take me somewhere in their world I’m not quite familiar with. For the most part, I just try to keep up.

And you know what? Something amazing has happened along the way: my people actually know what they’re doing. This second version is so much better than the first. I have discovered I am not a first person POV writer. I have also realized that by letting my people go free to roam, they have it all worked out. Now that doesn’t mean it won’t need editing – it will. But it does mean that the story is much clearer, and the flow is right.

So where does this leave you? Do you have a huge binder filled with outlines and timelines your people won’t cooperate with? Why not try writing a chapter without referring to the binder (or notebook or Scrivener or whatever) and letting your characters do what they want? They might disappoint you. They might anger you. But, and this is why you should try it, they might surprise you. Mine did. They may wander on occasion, and I have to help them back to the task, but they seem to be getting it right. 

Maybe yours will, too. 

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We all have a favorite book, or many favorites, if you’re like me. And as writers, we also have favorite characters that we’ve created, whether it’s a hero or a villain (sometimes, they’re both). We often times don’t want to admit this, because we could be accused of playing the favorite game, but it is  true, isn’t it? 

Case in point: in my YA fantasy series I’m working on, there are two young men that I love writing equally well. One is a soldier, and one is an assassin. I would never tell them they are both favorites, because characters have egos just like writers. If you haven’t found this to be the case, just wait. There will be a character someday who demands a lot of your time. And somehow, he or she becomes a favorite. 

The problem with having a favorite, or favorites, is that sometimes you have to let them go for the betterment of your story, and you don’t want to. You know you should, that their death will raise the stakes, but you just can’t do it. Friends, you have to. If it makes your story that much richer, that much more riveting, do it. You will feel bad. You might even cry. But if it causes you that much pain, consider what it will do to your readers. I know, over the course of my fantasy series, I will lose some characters who have become very dear. But their death will enrich the stories, and it will be worth it.

So remember, when it’s time to say goodbye, to let them die, how much more amazing your story will be because of it. 

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Last night my husband and I watched our son, now a freshman, march during his first football game with the Shelby Marching Tigers band. Our daughter was there too; not being interested in football (yet), she read her book. And the band was great. Really, especially for it being their first performance of the year on the field. They did what my husband and son both refer to as “park and blow,” when the band marches onto the field, but then stands in formation and plays, instead of doing an actual show. Weird term, I know, but dating back at least as far as when my hubby played trumpet (which is what our son and daughter play) in high school.

But it wasn’t the marching band last night that was so striking for me (don’t tell my son that). It was the fact that though our football team was outgunned and outclassed at every maneuver, they never gave up. And that’s remarkable, given that these boys are probably between the ages of 16-18 years old, and they lost every single game last season. Let me say that again: every single game. On top of that, they only won two games the year before. The Shelby Tigers were a force to be reckoned with three or four years ago, but then, as it happens to every good team, the seniors kept graduating, and Shelby lost the boys who had made it the team to beat.

Last night, in the face of being down some forty points to zero, I watched and listened as the Shelby coach gathered his boys into a huddle, and told them to never give up. To dig deep and find the heart that he knew they all had. To play the best they could. And after that speech, those boys went out and scored a touch down. It was beautiful. It really was. And the celebration on both the field and in the stands was amazing. Because you see, our team is little compared to a lot of the other conference teams. I don’t mean in height – some of the boys are over six feet. There’s just not a lot of them. But they do the best they can. They dig deep, and they don’t quit. And that’s something to both admire and respect.

I know football isn’t for everyone. Getting excited about a small town team making one TD, and getting a one point conversion, wouldn’t wow everyone. But it wowed me last night, because the Shelby Tigers varsity football team made do with what they had, and they deserved that touch down and conversion. And the greatest thing? They did it with heart.

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Sometimes you have characters, and those characters just know, instinctively, where they are going to live, what they are going to do, etc. I thought I knew where the Flynn family was going to be living –  in a giant mansion in Smoke City. But that wasn’t where Charlotte (the second oldest) wanted to live, apparently, because now they’re living in a giant old mansion out in the middle of a dark wood, with a mysterious carousel that Charlotte finds.

Funny how that works, huh? And maybe funny that there’s a carousel, of all things, out in the woods. I’ve always liked carousels, with their painted ponies and carnival music that shades toward the creepy side sometimes. Frozen in mid-stride, or perhaps mid-leap, those old wooden horses spin around day after day, playing in a world increasingly less in awe of their mystical powers. Because I dare you to take a ride on the armored horse or the leaping prancer and not feel something magical. Go on. I can wait. But it might take you a while to find one of these old carnival relics.

The idea to write something about a carousel horse has been floating around in my mind for a  very long time. Being a horse person, I’ve always been drawn to the wooden ponies. But it wasn’t until I took a picture of an old unrestored (he has been now, as far as I can gather) carousel horse and paired it with the Flynn family that their story really started to take shape. And it’s still taking shape as I write this. Being only six or seven pages into the manuscript, it’s difficult to tell where they’re really headed. But I bet it’s someplace magical and haunting and okay, maybe a bit creepy. After all, the carousels of old held honor in places like the White City (Luna City, later) and Coney Island, places where creepiness was just part of their charm.

But can you take that charmed creepiness, that weird mixture of magic and spookiness, and make it into something worth while? Will people want to read it? It doesn’t really matter. The best advice as far as writing goes that I’ve ever read is write for you. Don’t play to the trends. Whatever it is that makes you tick, that infinitesimal stuff that makes you you, is enough to create good stories. And for me, right now, it’s a fascination with wooden flying ponies that started the very first time my mom put me up on one at the local county fair.

Because, you see, there’s still some magic left in the world. And no, I’m not talking sorcerers and flying brooms, or witches and cauldrons. I mean the magic that, when you were a child, you didn’t struggle to find – it was just there. It was part of you. And it’s still there. You just have to find it. For some, it’s a trip to Disney World or Land, or going back to the place where you spent your summers.

I find the magic, my magic, in the wooden ponies of the carousel, resplendent in gold and silver and jewels, with fierce expressions and eyes that, if you choose to look into them, will transport you to worlds you never knew existed. And maybe someday, I’ll be able to share that magic with you.

 

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I don’t know about you, but sometimes as I’m writing, or looking on Pinterest for models for my stories, my characters whisper to me. They tell me what kind of castle they should live in, or how blue/brown/green their eyes should be. I used to tell them to shut up, but now, I listen. They always seem to know best, and they almost always get their way.

When I start thinking of a new story idea, I jot the ideas down in my Moleskines, if I have any handy. Cheaper versions of this popular notebook work, too. I prefer ones without lines, but hey, I’ll use whatever I can reach. And I need a good pen. It doesn’t have to be expensive – in fact, some of my favorites are just plain old Bics (fine or medium point). Anyway, after I get my notebook and pen (no pencils, people), I write down what’s careening around inside my head.

This usually includes character descriptions, snippets of dialogue (it’s fun if it’s between two people arguing, like Dec and Bannan), and some plot points. When I first started working on what would become Peril at Stormsurge, I had a huge blue three-ring binder that I packed full of notes. I cut pictures of character models from magazines – this was back in the day before Pinterest, when one actually had to go through magazines to find character inspiration. Yes, this story has taken me that long. But the problem with all that plotting and outlining was that my characters were taking shape, becoming real and whole, and well, they had different ideas about what they looked like, and where they were going to live.

I tried to shut them up. Really, I did. I wouldn’t work on the story, which just gave them time to rally together. Their whispers got a lot louder, until I finally gave up. I gave in. And they went back to whispering behind my back, plotting out their own courses through the story. Whenever I did something they didn’t like, they got louder. So now, I just listen to the whispers. And I think my writing, their story, is really much better for it.

I browse Pinterest and other sites with one ear tuned into them. They let me know when they see a picture of themselves, or of a place they want to visit, or a place they want to live. It’s much more of a partnership now than it used to be. And it only took me, oh ten years or so to find out that truth.

You’re probably thinking by this point that I’m mad as the hatter. Well, that just might be. I’m definitely unique. But then, aren’t we all? What works for you probably wouldn’t work for me, and vice versa. I’m just letting you know that this is how it works best for me. You have to find out how it works best for you and your characters.

But you know, it wouldn’t hurt to at least listen in a little to the whispers.

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