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)