Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You can't cut the throat of every c*cksucker whose character it would improve.

I'm about to go on a long ramble about the fiction writing process, so feel free to skip this one if, you know, you don't really care. :)

I have to wonder, in writing my own stuff, how much J.K. Rowling had plotted out when she wrote and later polished the first Harry Potter book. Or any other author with a series that tells a continuing story (like Phillip Pullman(GREATEST BOOKS EVER READ THEM NOW), Neal Schusterman, Suzanne Collins, Brandon Mull). Did they have all the books in the series completely outlined before finishing the first? When J.K. wrote the Philosopher's Stone, did she already have a solid outline for the next six books? Or did the story grow as she went along?

Since starting this project in mid-September, I have written books one and two of the apocalypse series (anyone care to read book 1? because I'm kind of desperate for guinea pigs). I've got the first few chapters of book 3 done, as well as a long and detailed outline of the rest of it, plus a short and more vague outline for the fourth book. BUT, in trying to go about revising book 2 and outlining book 3, I now have a monstrous list of things that need to be tweaked in book 1. Like for example, certain characters who didn't have big roles in book 1 have much bigger parts in the rest of the books, and I feel the need to go back and add more character development for them in the first book.

BUT then the problem with that is that the first book is already reeeaaaallllyyyy long for a middle grade audience (it's well over 67,000 words; "average length" for upper middle grade fiction is 35,000-40,000 words). There are A LOT of characters in this series, and that's a tough thing to manage when it comes to introducing all of them and developing them well without confusing the readers. In order to go back and add some more chapters for certain characters, I know I need to cull the herd, so to speak, and get rid of some of the characters who currently have more "screen time" than they probably need in order to give more time to the characters who play the major roles in the next three books. But it's much more difficult than it sounds. If that's even possible.

Creating characters is a strange thing. The phrase "character development" gets thrown around a lot in the world of storytelling--books, movies, TV shows, etc. Within all these different mediums of storytelling, one of the biggest things reviewers and critics tend to focus on is a lack of character development. I do it myself. I've read some books and watched some films and TV programs that could have been beyond brilliant, but they end up falling flat because the characters are not well developed. They seem fake, two-dimensional, empty shells in person-suits. The story could be amazing, but because the characters don't have enough substance, the story ends up being just really good instead of amazing.

Take The Maze Runner series, for example: I really liked the first book--it pulled me right in with an interesting setting and plot, but even though I flew through the first several chapters, I slowed down a lot with the rest. And now with the second book, I find myself losing interest. Dashner has truly mastered the art of a gripping plot and a good pace, but it feels to me like his characters have no personality. And because of that, I just slowly stopped caring about them.

For pretty much everything I've ever written (or attempted to write and never finished), the plot does not stick to my original outline. Take the fairy book: the original story that I began writing and then outlined ended up being COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the finished version. Why? Because of one character who got added as sort of an afterthought when I was already about 1/3 into writing the novel.
art by elk

Once I unleashed Charlotte, she took over. She even altered the plot of the third book and more or less created the fourth on her own (currently in the writing stage, about 3/4 done).

That's the crazy thing about creating characters. (Actual characters, not just altered/fantasy versions of yourself, which is probably what I did with 90% of my characters when I started writing hardcore in early college...)

That's also how you know whether or not you have created a strong character. You're not just making up a thing that uses dialogue and some action and tossing them into a story--you have to create a whole person. You need to know them inside and out--their past and present, their wants and needs, their moral code, their sense of humour, their favourite foods, their friends and family--you need to know absolutely everything about them. For most of the characters in my book projects, I have pages and pages and pages of notes on their lives, and most of that info will never ever actually make it into the books; it just gives me a really solid foundation.

The drawback to this is that once you've birthed a really really strong character, you lose a lot of control of the story. Going back to the fairy book--once Charlotte landed in it, she more or less burned my original outline to the ground and rewrote the whole book with herself as the bright shining center.

 The same goes with some of the characters of the apocalypse series--without me even realizing it right away, they snuck up and took over. Now they decide where the story goes; outlines be damned. So like I said, I need to add more of them to book 1, and that means possibly cutting out other characters.

It's really REALLY REALLY hard getting rid of a character. It's like losing a limb. Or like having your pet cat or dog forcibly taken away. Even with characters I don't like at all (another sign you've done a good job, if you absolutely loathe a character you made but need them in the story), I will cling to them and beg and plead and cry on the floor. It's worse than killing them off, because at least then they existed and had a life and a big part in the story.

Cutting them out of the story is just erasing them from existence. They just received the greatest of all smitings and no one will ever know they were there in the first place.

So naturally my current solution to this is to sit here not revising or editing or writing, but doing every other useless unproductive thing I can possibly think of. Like [after a combined 20+ hours of trial and error] finally getting a (possible) finished design for me and Lil Bro #2's tattoo adventure.

 (Hooray for sibling bonding that will probably end with Dadum and Stepmom lynching me in the backyard! :D)


  1. I've never finished a novel, so Idk how much I can help (I'm a poem/short story chick) in the long game planning, but I do have a novel on the back burner and I can tell you for me, the entire plot arc is laid out with notes on why each character has to appear,what they symbolize and cause. I build characters based on themes and uses, then flag them out according to whim. But their theme/purpose had to remain the core of their motivation so the flesh couldn't take then out of plot line. I don't add characters without designation.

    In a short story, I tend to keep relationships to triangles and squares. I avoid over complicating by pulling major focus into the triangle or square, making outside characters very much more like vehicles than persons.

    I have, thus far, never had to cut a character mostly because I won't write one in without a specific reason to do so. I'm not attached to them because for me, the story is about expressing a specific idea,a study on a singular track. The characters are just the colors I use to bring out the idea and lead it down from the hills home. If I find myself liking a character for another purpose other than the one they are currently being written into, I'll write them into another story, but not ever will I alter the story I'm working on for the character's sake.

    1. It's crazy how everyone has a completely different method. I don't think I have ever once consciously used a theme or thought about applying a theme to a book. My ideas almost always start with a setting, and maybe a weird relationship between two people in that setting, and they grow from there.

  2. this one I care the most :3
    from what I heard from others - JK wrote the last book first? I think it just changes with every author I HATE planning stories. it just takes out the fun of the story running along the way its supposed to!
    that's what I figured
    its what I have a problem with so next time im writing a book im having a handful of characters because developing loads of characters is just the shittiest thing evere and it like...distracts you from the plot because you need good characterisation too as much as you need a good plot (that's what I think anyway)
    YES omg I totally agree
    a lot of times when I find novels that are in first person sort of thing - the characters fall flat. not developed enough sort of thing. I realise a lot of people don't like main characters (I am one of them) and this makes me want to not have a main character. ever. :P I have a million characters that are important xD
    its just like...characters have to be like people. you have to develop them. you have to give the readers reasons to like them. to hate them. just to FEEL something for them, but one thing I really hate though is that some characters are like ALL GOOD or ALL BAD which is just so unrealistic. you need a realistic relatable character with a shit tonne of development!
    and that's okay. that's how I work too! that's how writing is supposed to be. if you don't expect what's going to happen, nobody else will either. it's like it's writing itself sometimes.
    i wrote this book and realised it just had a lot of background information. didn't really like it but now i know my characters inside and now, and want to write a better book - same characters, just less variation. :)
    OMG YES that's it
    like losing a limb. that's EXACTLY it.
    omg that's a tat design? coollllllllllllllllllllll -drools-

    -Sam Lupin

  3. Maybe think of them as a branch instead of a limb... sometimes you can cut off a bit of a plant and give it its own pot to grow in :) Or maybe just put them in cryo for now? You know, not killing them, just indefinitely suspending their lives.

    I shall have to read more of your things - I've only read Underwood, and while it was on my coffee table to be reread, that was before the move lol... Will probably be a year before I find it again. I meant to read the fairies book before it was published but if you linked to the manuscript I missed it (I suspect I was just being a spaz).

    Also random thought, do you have any Tears Of My Enemies illustrations ideas for a coffee mug? (would need big print, alas my Coffee of Mordor mug is pretty much illegible)

    I LOVE young adult fiction. The problem I had with Divergent was the idiotic romance the main characters were having. They were stopping in the middle of every life-threatening situation to snog, and it just seemed childish to me. Maybe with Speak I'm just reeeeally burned out on rape culture awareness right now and would rather think of other things. Interestingly, I had cracked open a tote of my mom's old books and was already considering rereading the Pullman books, which were right on top. The Golden Compass has now been upgraded to my bedside table... open to other suggestions!

  4. Oh, also, I suspect that the HP books started out as a loose framework in her mind but really evolved as she wrote them. I think the first three books have a very different tone than the last four, and #4 also brought a substantial increase in length. But there are many details that were there in the beginning that were linked to events in the later books, and I recall hearing that they consulted with Rowling as they were making the early movies to make sure that key elements to future storylines would not be left out because we didn't know they were important yet.

  5. I do care Mich and I actually feel like I've learned a good lot from this post so thank you for writing for us. It just shows that the writing fiction process is a long one that can be tedious but oh so worth while. It's a little daunting for me though, I have a good idea in the pipeline but I don't think I'd be able to do it any justice at all. I hope you're the next JK Rowling some day as well!

  6. Charlotte really jumps off the page though. Even trade?
    Omg I feel your pain. I thought I would practic with a bit of fanfiction I would just post on my site. But I keep needing to redo earlier scenes. So annoying! If I'm having those issues with mere fanfic then I'm really in trouble with original writing.
    I did love book 3. Publishing soon? Or did it get tweaked too? The beta you sent me was riveting and seemed complete.

  7. Since I was a kid I've kept a notebook full of characters who for whatever reason were forced out of a story. I still have the same notebook. It's decades old. And now I have computer notes. It's like a huge cryo station for beloved characters that just don't have a home yet. Unfortunately trying to make homes for all of them means I have way too many projects at once and when projects collide then all hell breaks loose.
    Kickass tattoo. And also beautiful.

  8. Can i just say that i love "Apocalypse thingy" as a placeholder title?

    Also, I love the little bit of it I read. It was a while back so I don't remember it all, but I'd love to read the rest of it if you still need guinea pigs. Send to my email, yes?

    "doing every other useless unproductive thing I can possibly think of" - this sounds SOOOO like my ADD :P Except I also throw in fits of despair and distress when the panic over what I should be doing but am not bubbles to the surface

  9. Omg I die of envy whenever I hear about people who can make wonderful plot outlines and follow them. I can't. My stories grow like fucking weeds. I have a vague idea or a couple of characters and they start bouncing around and NEVER do what I want and things sprout off in all directions rpetty quickly.

    Plotting. . . what a lovely pipe-dream D: Wish I could, it would make things a LOT easier on me!

    Still, I wonder how much they had planned, too. They CAN'T be as perfect as they seem to be!

    *Waves hand madly* I VOLUNTEER AS BETA-TRIBUTE!

    Hmmm they could have their own set of stories? You could have a few shorter ones to introduce the characters/do backstory that all feed into the next one? Shit, that makes no sense -.-

    I panic about my characters. I don't know who the fuck they are, they just wander in and go HEY BITCH MOVE OVER I'M HERE! and I can't do a bloody thing with them until they've bounced around a bit and I know how they'll react to things. I know less about them than people who read the stories. Gah, inadequate as anything. They're all bloody enigmas to me and you have NOTEBOOKS on yours! *Hangs head in shame* Imma go sit in the corner and think about what I've -not- done.

    GAH I BLOODY KNOW HOW YOU FEEL. I had enough trouble slaughtering faceless dragons last year. I was a wreck for the whole week I was writing that scene. I couldn't even FACE doing the destruction of Mik-Symon's village, which is why it happened 'off-camera' so to speak.

    Eheheheh noooo I'm not spending hours on Tumblr and in the garden to avoid editing. No, not me 0.0;

    So, yeah. I volunteer my nonexistant skills as guineapig. Have at!

    Take care, Dragon <3

  10. You made that tat design yourself?? That's really nice.


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