Thursday, April 2, 2009

The problem with characters

I am working on the first draft of my first novel and hope to have it completed by the end of May.  If I miss my deadline, I won't be too hard on myself, but it is good to have goals in place to keep the story moving.  

Right now, I'm hovering around 40,000 words - which is a good chunk of the book (it's about 175 Word doc pages), but apparently, in the world of publishing and "real" authors, you are supposed to speak in terms of how many words you've written, not pages.  When the book is published, the pages are all different sizes, so it's impossible to know how many pages the book will have once it's actually printed.  

My goal in the end is to have a polished 90-95k words in my manuscript, so I'm almost half way there.  

I've just come from a writer's meeting, so I'm jazzed about getting back into it.  It's a nice encouragement to be around other writers.  We all feed off each other's energy and what we've learned since we met last.  We all have different genres and motivations, but the overarching goal is the same:  to be published authors.  Some in the group already are, and that's a huge comfort for those of us who are striving to become published.  

We all have our own unique perspectives and backgrounds.  We all had something different happen to us today that colors the mood we're in.  So, in a way, we're all like characters in a book.  In this story, the characters have all convened in one place, united by the single purpose of getting published.  And it's really cool.  Some people are helpful.  Some are cynical, overwhelmed or curious.  Some well-versed in the publishing world and are focused on "giving back."  Each meeting is steered a different direction just based on who shows up.  It alters what questions are asked and how everyone responds.  It changes the story.   

I am at a point in my book where the pace is really starting to pick up.  There's a lot happening and a lot that needs to happen and it's difficult because I still don't have a full understanding of my characters.  It was brought up in the class today, and I guess that's normal to have questions about our characters as we get to know them throughout the course of the book.  I thought I was prepared before I began, but apparently not.  I have a Power Point presentation with all of the characters and who they are, what they look like, etc in a slide or two that is supposed to define them to me.  I may know their eye color and all the names of their extended family, but there's something missing.  I don't always know what they're going to say or do.      

I have about 150 characters right now - some have not yet been used (and won't be because some are family members who have passed on), some have made small appearances so far, and some are central to the story.  The only problem is, I sort of started to fall in love with some of these characters and their back stories, so now, I have an infinite number of ways my story can go.  AND there's that issue of keeping the story focused and meaningful.  If I tell too much, I think I would definitely lose momentum.  

There are characters in the story who are really good on the inside, but they make terrible mistakes or decisions that change the course of the story.  

My story is about a young teenage girl named Ava.  She has already endured a lot at her age.  She has lost her twin brother (whose name I am currently thinking of changing).  Not only that, but she feels that the reason he is gone is because of a disobedient decision she made.   So not only is there pain, but now there's guilt.  Every person I know would deal with these powerful feeling differently.  Ava shuts down.  She doesn't enjoy things she used to; she even avoids them.   

At some point, Ava has to change.  Her life and her story must move forward.    

She begins to take control of her situation.  She begins to act, rather than just watch.  As she does this, her fears and insecurities slowly begin to disappear.  We begin to see her as she used to be before her brother died, but with a new perspective.     

What I'm working on right now is making sure that this doesn't happen too quickly or slowly.  I got bogged down by the depressed version of Ava and wouldn't allow her to change.  I was writing a scene that would inspire curiosity in most people, but she played it safe.  She didn't want to investigate.  And I started to think:  if the character doesn't feel like being interested, would the reader be?  Am I robbing the story of a greater possibility because I am not ready to let go of the sad, unengaged Ava?    

I needed to let her branch out into a more dynamic character.   But it wasn't easy.  

I physically had to step away from my computer, take some time and think about it.  Should she follow the person in the shadows or wait for help?  Follow her curiosity or stay safe?  

It's interesting because I find that the problem with characters is within myself.  It's my lack of understanding or willingness to allow them to change and grow.  It's the struggle between what I might do and what the character would do.  
I guess I would compare it to being a parent.  When a new situation comes up, you may not automatically know how to handle it, so it's easy to hold onto the old way of doing things.  At some point you have to give them a little slack and let them write their own story and, at times, make mistakes. 

And that's what's happening.  Once I allowed Ava to change, I have found that things are happening more organically in the story.  It's exciting to watch the story change.   
And I am growing and changing as an author.

It's strange how that works.  

All I can say is that I'm really loving this process.  I am stretching my imagination.  I have learned so much already, and I haven't even scratched the surface.    



CaRoLiNe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CaRoLiNe said...

lauren that is so great!!!

amazing watching and hearing about your story and how it's evolving

i am seriously contemplating taking a "year off" after i graduate, moving to scotland with a friend and just writing--really see if i'm cut out for it----this is happening after i spend a summer is africa (of course)

hahaha dreams dreams dreams i've got a lot-- but some plans plans plans will have to start forming over the next year.

with love and encouragement

cuz <><

Lauren said...

Thanks lady.
I think that would all be really incredible. I think so many writers really lack the opportunity to explore their passion full time.
That's why so many keep their day jobs. It's sort of a cycle: not enough time to write, so they keep the job, creating less time to write and less opportunity to actually publish something and make money, creating the need to have a job...
So if you start out ahead of it, maybe you can beat it!
Of course, you could always be unemployed and then write (like me). ; )

Sounds like you really have the living abroad bug. Matt and I may have caught it too. We'll see what happens.

Ever been to Scotland?

CaRoLiNe said...

oh i have the bug REAL BAD

i've never been to scotland BUT i've been to england and wales---it was and i actually spent quite a few days in england around cambridge, oxford, and london last spring---it wasn't paris BUT iT WAS AWESOME

hahaha maybe i'll be you international neighbor