Monday, 4 June 2012

Characters who arrive in their own sweet time

One thing I have found is that you can never rush a character. And for me, my characters make my books so sometimes waiting on them can be frustrating. Without them I can't go anywhere.

I blame Seamus entirely for the delay in my writing career. It took him five years to turn up, in which time Twilight appeared and got successful and the YA urban fantasy market saturated, which is why Seamus is still in a drawer. And it's totally his own fault.

Let me explain. I started out writing urban fantasy, because I love it. Not the stereotypical boy meets girl stuff dressed up with vampires and fallen angels, but the urban fantasy concepts of something dark and supernatural behind the city facade. So my first book, Freakshow, had two teenage shapeshifters as the main characters. Unfortunately despite repeated attempts to write the wretched thing, I could never get past more than a few chapters. It was just...well...garbage! The words wouldn't flow right. I couldn't think of a plot past the first chapter and...sigh...I'd just give up and forget about it.

Except the idea kept nagging away in the back of my brain. Shapeshifters in an urban environment fighting some kind of mafia-like organisation. I had the two shapeshifters - Teo and Kizzy - but I couldn't get to the next stage of turning it into a fully-fledged story. Then one day I was driving down a lane and I had my own personal writer's road to Damascus. It was so vivid that it was as if the character was sitting in the passenger seat beside me, his boots up on my dashboard and a packet of cheese and onion crisps he was munching on stinking the car out. 'I'm what you've been missing,' he said, with what would become a trademark smugness. 'I'm Seamus and I'm a blood redistribution engineer.'

My vampire had arrived, and within minutes so had a whole secondary cast of characters and a plot. And the book was written in six months flat. And actually, I'm still pretty pleased with that book. It really isn't bad, even if it is still in a drawer.

Sam was a different matter. He arrived like a cannonball. My friend, Andrea, made a passing comment that no one seems to write books about gay kids and I nodded. Two days later, Sam was born. He growled a couple of lines of dialogue in my ear and sent me off to frantically scribble away to write Freefalling in two months. I learned a lot with that book, not least that it's difficult to get published as a debut novelist without a book that seems to fit a niche, no matter how much people like it.

Jenna and Ryan from Skin Deep didn't exist at all as voices until my pen hit the paper and then they grew before my eyes. And they weren't at all as I would have planned them if I'd sat down to try to create them from scratch in a book outline. This happens to me a lot which is why I never bother outlining but with Skin Deep I'd never had so little idea of who the main characters were and where the plot would go before I started. As Jenna says in the book, 'I took a deep breath and stepped off the cliff'. Somehow it works out in the end!

It can be scary though. I waited a long time to work out who Holly is in my next book and went through a lot of early drafts of the first chapters before I found her at all and even then had to do a thorough edit at the end of the first draft to get her right, which is very unusual. But perhaps that's because of the situation she finds herself in - even she doesn't know who she is any more.

That's the funny thing about characters: some come easy as lounging in the sun on the grass on a hot day; others, it's like climbing a mountain to get inside them. And you can't hurry them - they open up to you in their own sweet time.

4 comments:

  1. Yay I got a mention in your blog! Still can't wait to read a published version of Freefalling.

    Also as someone who has had the pleasure of reading Freakshow I can definitely vouch for the character of Seamus and how he jumps off the page at the reader. He is a vivid and exciting character to compete with Kizzy and Teo. Too bad that Edward and Bella arrived before Seamus!!!!
    Hopefully Freakshow will be published sooner rather than later!

    Andrea

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  2. A short time ago "Skin deep" released in german translation and I really love your book. The characters are wonderful detailed and naturalistic and so I couldn´t stop reading till the end. Many thanks for the wonderful book. I really enjoyed it.

    Best regards,
    fantasticbooks

    (http://books-are-fantastic.blogspot.de/2012/10/skin-deep-nichts-geht-tiefer-als-die.html)

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  3. Oh my gosh, I fell in love with skin deep as soon as I read it and now i'm even more in love with by any other name! I would love to read more from you.
    And p.s my name's Kizy:))

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