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Friday, November 12, 2010

Characters - my new obsession

When I started writing Nikki's Wish over a year ago, I wasn't all that interested in characters. I was interested in plot. Something unique was going to happen - a guy jumping off a skyscraper and surviving is kind of unique (or at least I hope it is). Then I went about crafting how I was going to explain that and before long a story was born with a girl, a genie, an evil master and a few other supporting cast members. I wrote the story. I had a few people read it, and in the meantime I was reading a lot more myself. I got comments back, and one of those really stood out to me. It was Nomes who picked apart my characters one at a time and made me realize just how important the characters are to a story, and yes, I've been obsessing about that ever since.

I don't want to write a book that's just about plot. I want my characters to stand out, for people to remember them. I've read a lot this year and I can tell you that the books that have really stood out to me are those that made me cry a little. I have this fantasy now that I can make my readers burst into tears, and by far the best way to do that is through character development. I've spent the past 4 months working on this, but folks, I've gotten stuck!! I fixed Nikki's mother - she's not quite so much the helicopter mom now. I gave Kay some perky new lines and I deleted one character that didn't stand out at all. And yes, I even gave the wicked witch of the Gin some empathy. But now comes the biggie. The sis. Shani. Shani is dead and that makes her character far more challenging than the rest. All of her lines come from imagined conversations between her and Nikki, and some of those don't necessarily showcase Shani's true thoughts or feelings. They're in Nikki's voice, in her head, and given that Nikki's harboring a bit of guilt over her sister's death, she's not going to be entirely reliable. But getting back to this whole "I want to make the reader" cry bit, it's this relationship between Nikki and Shani where I really need to hit my reader in the gut. I need to incorporate sweet remembrances with beautiful writing so when Nikki finally starts to deal with her grief, the reader will feel it. And this friends, is where I'm stuck. I try to imagine these scenes, I try to think of words exchanged with my own siblings to make this relationship come to life, but I'm just not there yet. I can't see it.

Now I'm not saying that what I have so far is bad. It isn't. I just don't think it's tear-worthy and that's the goal I'm striving for. So I've been thinking to myself, maybe if I do some character profiles and flip through some really great photography, then inspiration will hit me. So the character profiles will be forth coming in the next week, but this is a quick flip through some photographs I found.

I love the girls reading together here. 
My older sister used to read to me ALL the time.

 This one just feels fun to me.

Anything with the beach is noteworthy.

This is just too cute.

 I love the offbeat feeling to this. I'm not sure about the girl in the background, 
but I could totally see Nikki knocking around with a guitar.

Secrets! Secrets! Secrets!

I feel like a prince is about to ride through that 
forest any minute now. Sam? Where are you??

I can totally see Nikki and Shani doing this, especially
with the stocking caps. Minnesota = Brrr...

This feels straight out of the book with the lake and all.

 I LOVE this one. I have a feeling it's illegal to put it up here 
(see that little name at the bottom??), or even that it might be from a movie???
But yeah, I can totally see the sisters talking it out in the bathtub.

This one freaked me out when I first saw it. 
The girl on the right looks like a ghost, which is sooo perfect for the story.
 I just keep looking at it, trying to figure out how the photographer did that. Photoshop?
Anyway, it's gorgeous.

That's all for now. Have a good weekend!!


Bee said...

You have a genie in Nikki's Wish? That's so cool :D

I work totally in reverse order. Characters come to me first, which is why I often lose the plot. That should explain why my WiP has been with me for about 11 months now, and doesn't seem much close to being wrapped up. I have the characters, their backstory, and now I'm trying to bring it all together.

I've heard character profiles help a lot. I never needed them though. I like finding out more about my characters as I go along.

Love the photos, btw. Especially the one in the bathtub and the one with the ghost girl.
I think when you're exploring grief and loss the only way to really punch the reader in the gut is to make it real. It's a topic which hits home. Maybe if you try looking at your own experiences with loss, things will ring true, like you wanted.

G'luck! Your book sounds very interesting :)

KO said...

The photos are amazing.

You've got me thinking about my sisters. There is such a delicate balance of competition, love, protection, and fighting (or maybe that's just me and my sisters). I always felt like my sisters and I could fight amongst ourselves all day long, but nobody else better try to hurt us, or we'd (finally) present a united front.

You've read The Sky is Everywhere? That was a nice sister relationship, but I can't remember how much you heard them together, because there was also a dead sister.

I Capture the Castle has two sisters that aren't necessarily on the same page, but they have some great moments together.

The sisters in Little Women-- book or movie, so so good. My favorite combination are Jo and Beth.

The sisters in Sense and Sensibility have such a sweet relationship (the older girls in Pride and Prejudice are okay, but a little more stilted).

Can't wait to hear how you work through this!!

Angie said...

Bee - usually a concept comes to me first. Not sure why. I mean I could see some of Sam's personality and Nikki's snarkiness right away, but the deeper details weren't there, just the idea. The thing with looking at my own experiences - hmmm...I've never lost anyone really close to me like that. My grandparents and aunts yes, but we only saw them about once a year so I didn't feel that close to them. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like, but it's hard to imagine something that tragic both because it makes me sad and because I have a hard time imagining how I'd react. And yeah, Sam's a genie. I've posted my query letter and enough about the book to the few people on my blog so I guess I don't feel like keeping it a secret anymore!

KO - you're so right about the sisters thing. I really need to think about my own relationship with my sisters. My eldest sister was pretty much all grown up when I was a teen - we're ten years apart. We've gotten closer in the past years but there wasn't so much of the fighting stuff. With my other sister, we were only 17 months apart and we played together as kids but had very separate lives (friends and aspirations) when we were teens. I did incorporate some of the stuff we used to do as younger kids into the book already, but I need to go more into the teen relationship. Anywho, I'll figure it out. I did read The Sky is Everywhere and I loved the prose in it, but you're right I don't remember a lot of the flashbacks. I should have taken notes. It's been a long time since I've read LW. I think I may have it around here somewhere though. Good suggestion. :)

Nomes said...

your plot is so strong Angie! and i like the characters too - and the kind of strengthening you're talking about is going to turn it into a killer book!

i love all those pictures! good luck with the changes you want to bring in


Tessa Quin said...

You have really inspired me with this! What a great way to write expressions and different places to do things (the talking in the bathtub is brilliant). I think I might go and find pictures to inspire my writing, scenes from my own environment.

Angie said...

Thanks Nomes! I hope to turn it into a killer book, we'll see.

Tessa - that's great to hear!! I kind of like this idea myself. Might do it again soon. :)



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