Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Adventures in Fiction Writing! Part Four: Now Let's REALLY Talk About Characters

Wait, what?
This blog series already has one post about characters. Why am I writing another? I have a couple of reasons:

(1) Characterization is just that important in fiction writing, and
(2) This blog series is a journey through my own revise/rewrite process, so the topics I hit on have been and will continue to be the topics that are pertinent to MY adventures in fiction writing.

But really, good characters are THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of good fiction. Period.

I just read an amazing YA (remember, YA means Young Adult) novel that I won't name because of the potential for spoilers (but the title is 3 words long and suggests that the protagonist is in search of an American state that begins with the letter A). If I wanted to distill the plot of this phenomenal novel down to its most simple, I could sum up the entire thing like this:

Socially awkward boy moves into boarding school and makes friends. One of his new friends dies.

That's it. That's really all that happens. Sound dull? It wasn't, because the characters are soooo gooood.

I recently asked my boyfriend Brandon and The Teen to read the second draft of my #WIP (that's work in progress for you non-literary folk). Here's my philosophy for who should see your drafts and when:

First Draft: Writer's eyes only, because this shit is embarrassing
Second Draft: Friends/family who can be counted on to tell you THE UGLY TRUTH about your #WIP without making you want to off yourself. You need this feedback to BOTH ground you in reality and bolster your confidence enough to move forward.
Third Draft: Writing instructor, critique group, friends who pride themselves on being grammar Nazis.
Fourth (and subsequent) Drafts: Have your friends and family who read the second draft revisit the manuscript now. Also: writing instructors, critique groups, and friends who pride themselves on being grammar Nazis.

So Brandon and The Teen recently read the second draft of ROAD TO NOWHERE. They both finished the read excited about the story. They said the plot was riveting, the pacing was good. They said they never felt bored. They said my plot twists were sneaky and fun. And then I asked them about the characters. And, well...*sigh.* I have some work to do.

Brandon could identify one stand-out character. The Teen couldn't. They agreed on one character who seemed to have no purpose. And, worse, they agreed that the character who I intended to be central to the storyline just wasn't living up to my expectations.

Here's how I introduce Cerulean in the book. I think this introductory scene is good. I think it works. But after getting some good feedback from my family, I'm going to be reworking the rest of her appearances:

Cerulean met the little girl at Gruesome Point. That was where she met all the newcomers. The girl wore fuzzy pink slippers, pink bows in her hair, and a cheery nightgown that looked out of place with her gray surroundings and was all quivering lips, trembling hands, and wide, staring eyes. She looked like she had woken up to discover her nightmare was real. Which was pretty much exactly what had happened.

Meeting kids like this always made Cerulean want to cry, but she couldn't, at least not now. Now she had to put on a smile and be brave for the girl—assure her that life goes on, even in Nowhere.

She had to lie, in other words.

Cerulean smiled and approached the terrified child. “Hi,” she said in her most soothing voice, “I'm Cerulean. What's your name?”

Where am I?” The little girl asked.

This place doesn't really have a name,” Cerulean said. “We call it Nowhere. What can I call you?”

I'm Indigo,” the girl said. “This place is scary. I don't want to be here. Where's my mommy?”

Your mom's at home,” Cerulean said, knowing what question came next, and hating herself for how she was going to have to answer it.

Can I go home?”

I'm afraid not. At least not yet. We haven't figured out a way to leave this place.”

Indigo burst into tears. Cerulean wrapped the girl's tiny body in a hug. She couldn't have been a day over six years old.

Sshh,” she said. “You'll be OK. I'll take care of you. You can stay with me while you're here.”

Indigo just kept sobbing. “I...I!

I'll be your mommy here,” Cerulean said. “I'll take care of you.”

She picked the distraught child up and walked toward home.

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