Characters Who Won’t Let Go

This image pretty much sums up my blogging ideas last week for today’s post.

A few topics surfaced now and again, but none of them drove me to my computer, compelled to set down a torrent of words before they escaped my grasp. This was a good situation, though. Because it seems my creative brain wanted to play with other ideas. You see, it’s been flitting from story to story to  story, although never alighting on one long enough for me to begin writing. Yes, three stories. Now, please don’t groan and roll your eyes at my apparent inability to stick with one. These aren’t new stories per se. Continue reading

Writers—What Do Your Characters Say About You?

This post has its roots in character Madeleine O’Brien’s guest post last Saturday. I mentioned in a reply to 4amWriter’s comment that character insights into an author could be an interesting exercise. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

For me, this isn’t difficult. My characters insisted on the chance to write posts for the blog. If I was going to write about them, they were determined to write about me and their views on the books. I didn’t argue. I know better. It’s probably obvious from this paragraph that I’m in the school of thought that the characters really exist “out there,” somewhere. If you’re one of my classmates, you might already have a good idea what your characters think of you. Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough

Hey—get back here!

Where do my characters go? You can see one of them running away from me at right. I think it’s Jack Trainer. Madeleine O’Brien might have gotten out the door ahead of him.

As many of you know, I’m in the midst of rewrites and revisions to my novel Death Out of Time based on my beta reader comments. And some of the characters are being less than helpful. That makes the work harder than it should be.

I honestly think rewrites and revisions are harder than writing the initial story. Think about it. That first draft shapes the story in a writer’s mind (at least it does in mine). But when readers consistently point out problems such as too many characters or too complex a plot, a good writer recognizes there is a real problem. Changes must be made.

At this stage, I don’t think it matters if you’re an outliner or a pantser. You’ve got to figure out what to cut, what to revise, what to add, how will that affect other parts of the story … you get the picture. And that’s never easy.

Part of my problem is in the tunnel that I envision between my world and that of my characters. When we first finished building it, the tunnel was wide and clean. Ideas flowed smoothly between us. But as we worked on the early drafts, we ignored the garbage piling up on the tunnel floor. What garbage, you ask? Oh, things like discarded dialogue tags, cut characters, and pooh-poohed plot twists.

This is not Jack Trainer. It might be David Monroe.

As I look at the tunnel floor after two drafts, I see a ton of garbage. And it’s hard to maneuver around it. The floor needs a good cleaning. But am I getting help with that? HA! Who ever wants to help with housework?

No, most of my characters are on vacation somewhere. Maybe sitting on a tropical beach in the South Pacific. Or hiking in the Rockies. Or maybe they’re just hiding out in their homes with the blinds drawn, hoping I’ll go away and finish the work on my own.

To be fair, a few folks are helping. I’ve got some lovely imported Spanish wine set aside for David, Valerie, and Ortzin. Hmm, that last character’s name might have you wondering…. Remember, this book centers on time travel. That’s all I’m saying about him. 🙂

I’m ready for the Muse to step in. She has the power to find the truant characters, round them up, and make them pull their share of the load on the revisions. But I have this sneaking suspicion she’s drinking mojitos with the gang on the tropical beach.

The reality is this. I have to find them, round them up, and make them work with me. And to do that, I have to pull my writing brain together. Revisions are hard. Part of me has a hard time settling down to do it. And that part has gotten too much of the upper hand.

So if my comments on your posts are getting shorter, or I sometimes only leave a “like” when I used to comment, it’s because I have to spend more time with the books. My novels are the reason for the blog. I hope you’ll understand.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I just got a tip that Madeleine was spotted at a nearby shopping mall….

You’re coming with me, O’Brien.

PS. On a fun note, I typed the opening scenes of my WIPs into the “I Write Like” web site. I stole borrowed the idea from Kathlis’s recent post. You get a comparison to famous writers based on your word choices and frequencies. It was fun. According to the site, my opening scene for Death Out of Time is reminiscent of Jack London. Hmm. That’s not bad company.

As a lark, I entered the opening scene for each alternate universe of Summer at the Crossroads. While these all deal with the “same” woman as a main character, her life is different in each universe. And, apparently, so is my writing of them. I got the following results:

Catherine Donnelly = Ernest Hemingway. Trust me. I do NOT write like Hemingway.

Katharine Donnelly = Raymond Chandler. Um, I really don’t think so.

Kathryn Donnellan = Dan Brown. Wow. Mega sales, here I come! LOL

Katarina O’Donnell = Anne Rice. Hmm. More mega sales! I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

Where Do Characters Come From?

There are two camps on the origin of characters. Some writers tell you they are “my creation.” Others say the characters exist somewhere, and they have a way to get into your head. If you’ve read the blurb for Summer at the Crossroads and seen the character guest posts, you know what I think.

To me, the process is like building a tunnel. The characters have a way to break through to my consciousness. At first the connection is limited — maybe only enough to get a few ideas into my head. We can just shake hands through the small opening. But they keep digging, I start digging, and the tunnel widens. After a while, more information comes through, and the plot becomes clearer. And the information flow goes two ways. We can “walk” into each other’s worlds and get to know one another.

But just like people in our world, not all characters make it easy. For Summer at the Crossroads, Catherine and her other selves are very much in my head. They let me know in no uncertain terms who’s writing the book — and it isn’t me.

Catherine and Kathryn are always patient, even when I stumble on what they say or how they act. Katarina is chatty and willing to share lots of information — except for the serious undercurrents in life. But we need those elements, and the time came when she had to admit her story wasn’t all fun. Katharine, though, will go silent and stew while I find my way through her story and personality. Even though this was my first novel, she’s never cut me any slack. If I don’t portray her just right, she’ll toss up a brick wall on her story. I’m grateful for that. It’s made me a better writer.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, it’s no surprise that Madeleine and Jack of Death Out of Time don’t act the same way. Remember — they went from science fiction to mystery back to science fiction. And they’ve never pushed me as hard as the folks in the other book. They give a few ideas and then wander off while I flesh out some scenes. Then they’ll look over what I’ve written and suggest revisions. Later, they’ll give me a few more scenes, and we’ll repeat the process.

Maybe that’s why the two books have such different feels to them. The writing, tone, and approach are all different because the characters are all different. That’s even carrying into the sequels. It’ll be interesting to see how future books unfold as new characters find their way into my head.

Oh, yes. Let’s not forget the new characters who come out of nowhere and knock you off your feet.

There’s one in Death Out of Time. I can’t say who without revealing too much. But I can’t explain the feeling I had when I wrote the first scene with him. Where did he come from? There was a history here that I never knew about. We were back to science fiction, but the future of the book (and series potential) took an unexpected twist.

Who are you? I asked when I finished that scene. He just smiled in his way, put a finger to my lips, and said, You’ll see.

And that’s why I love writing by the seat of my pants. Those moments of sheer excitement as new characters reveal themselves and their new plot elements are pure magic to me. I wouldn’t want them any other way.

How about you? Where do your characters come from? Do you have a favorite who appeared out of nowhere and turned the story upside down? Or have you carefully crafted each one to fit your story? Do they yell at you? Tease you? Get jealous of others?