Monday, August 4, 2014

Character whispering & what does Scarlett O'Hara and Hannibal Lecter have in common?

Here I am on a blog hop, following on from my talented Canadian writer friend, Jennifer Ellis. This is no ordinary blog hop, wonderful reader. In this one, we are focusing on characters, and who doesn’t love a good character? Thanks to Jennifer for tagging me. You must hop over and check out her blogpost; I loved Jennifer's thoughts on great characters.

I’m currently finishing off the third draft of my novel, Back Again, which started life in February as a short story of the same name. I blogged about writing what turned out to be a novelette of 13,000 words (55 pages) in only a week here, and I debunked the myth that finding time to write is difficult. 

This novel will debunk that myth even more. I wrote the novel in 4 weeks around the novelette—so really that is five weeks in total for a full novel.  If it had been a stand alone first draft, I think it would have been quicker. It turned out to be quite tricky to have a middle bit that I wanted to keep and was forced to work around. To be honest, that part filled me with fear in not really knowing how it would all come together like putting a jigsaw puzzle together without the picture.

The second draft took me three weeks, because (as usual) I added more words. I always do on my second draft, as I fill in details. So it grew by 18,000 words from the initial 62,000. At the same time, it gets a line edit it. This third draft will end up taking 18 days and add another 3,500 words to bring me out at around 85,000 (350 pages). 

So that’s 10 ½ weeks to have a book reasonably polished and ready to go to the structural editor.  In total, with the final edits, I estimate it will be about 12 weeks to have written and edited (once the edits come back). It will have a structural edit and a copy edit with two different editors at (my go to editors, love them). Publication should be sometime in September. I started the first draft on the 19th May.

Having lived in the Back Again world now for almost three months, of course, I want to talk about my protagonist. So first of all, here is the blurb on Back Again to set the scene.

Tag line: Between life and death, lies fate.
  Is there any greater nightmare than living through the death of your child?
     Reliving it again and again.
A tragic accident takes Dawn’s only child right before her eyes. The following surreal days are filled with soul-destroying grief and moments she never wants to live again—until, inexplicably, she finds herself back again, living that day. It’s a second chance to save her son. But changing fate is not as simple as it first appears.
    Time is not Dawn’s ally.

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Dawn Graham is my fictional characters name, but she is, also, every mother. I’ve tried to make her as sympathetic and relatable as possible, so that readers can slip into her shoes and go on the journey with her no matter their age or where they live. It’s a harrowing journey, but in the end I think you will find the outcome enjoyable.

When and where is the story set?
It’s set in present day, but I was careful to have my physical setting nameless. Just like Dawn, I wanted it to be anywhere in the world. The desire to save and protect your child from harm is a universal emotion. So this could be about any parent, anywhere.

What should we know about her?
Dawn’s got a lot going on. She’s a single mother dealing with a divorce, and almost crippling feelings of insecurity. And who wouldn’t feel anxious? She’s lived her whole life at risk of suddenly losing big chunks of time, and to wake up somewhere strange with crazy memories that she doesn’t understand.

She’s not perfect. She also has to deal with questions of guilt, hatred and forgiveness.  However, she has more strength than she realizes. I put poor Dawn through the ringer. In the end, she really impressed me. 

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
Dawn has two major conflicts in her life. 

First, when she was twelve, she has a ‘slip’ as she calls them, and ends up lost on a mountain. The ‘slip’ occurs after she finds her sister dead. But when she wakes up and is rescued, she discovers that she's been  lost in the wilderness (something she doesn’t remember), and that her sister hasn’t died at all. This was the beginning her time ‘slips’ that she can remember.  Her family and doctors believe she has an illness, so she grows up constantly looking over her shoulder and dealing with helicopter parents and far of what is to come.

Then Dawn’s ten-year-old son, Tommy, dies in a tragic car accident, and after enduring the anguish of the ten days that follow, she suddenly finds herself back again on the morning of the accident. When she tries to change what is going to happen, she discovers there is a huge problem standing in her way. 

Dawn endures the worst thing that can happen to anyone. In a matter of a moment, her life becomes the greatest nightmare imaginable.

What is the personal goal of the character?
Dawn needs to find a way to circumvent the physics of the time slip. I didn’t want to write another one of those time travel stories where the person goes back and they can wander about changing things, their only worry creating a paradox. My character must save her son. So that is her only goal in the book. Along the way she does some soul searching, as did I through her eyes. Ultimately, though, it’s a science-fiction action thriller, with one focus only—a mother saving the life of her son.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
It’s titled Back Again, and it will be out mid-to-late September. However, I’ve already published the 55 page novelette. So if you would like a taste of the Back Again world and what Dawn has found herself up against, you can read that.  The 350 page book is written around the novelette, but has a different ending that goes past the original’s conclusion. 

There is, also, backstory—but not boring backstory. There is action in the past, as well, and it was a pretty enjoyable writing time for me, learning more about Dawn and the antagonist, Kylie.  When I wrote the short story, I had no idea what big characters they were, although I could feel there was a lot in their past and future, and felt there might be a book in the story.

When I sent the original novelette off to my editors, both of them loved it. Then my structural editor wrote me a few days later urging me to write the book. Both she and my copy editor wanted to know more about the story.  I don’t think the novelette will be a spoiler for the book. You will get a feel for the world and the characters, but I think it will just whet your appetite.

What Makes Great Characters
Characters are wonderful creatures. They’re magical people who alight upon your imagination and whisper stories to a writer. I’m one of those lucky writers who barely write their own stories. I come up with an idea for a story, sometimes just a scene, and I think, hmm, this might be interesting. Then, without much thought, a character turns up to tell the story, and I just go along for the ride, nudging here and there. 

Great characters become real. I dare anyone to not believe that Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind, Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity or Harry Potter aren’t real. They feel real, don’t they? They live in your imagination long after you’ve closed the book. They have a life of their own beyond the pages.

I believe that this is because to those writers they also became real. I don’t know how that happens for a writer. For me, it happened suddenly one day while writing a short story Mitigating Circumstances (out in my Behind Dark Doors collection). Perhaps I’d written enough words that I was granted my character license, as if I’d proven that I could handle the job and take care of these people. It felt like lightening had struck, and I was no longer writing the story, but merely following along with the character. It was quite a thrill and I will never forget the feeling. In a way, when this happens, you become a character whisperer. If this hasn't happened to you, yet, trust me, keep writing, and it will come. I really believe that.

Great characters are those characters that you know and understand, the minute you’re first introduced to them. They have a familiarity that you recognize instantly. You may not like them—you wouldn’t want Hannibal Lecter over for dinner, but you sure do respect the creature Thomas Harris created. So a character doesn’t need to be sympathetic to be great; he just needs to do his job. That job is to play his role in telling a story.

Great characters aren’t made. They emerge from the writing of a story, slowly, surely, and demand to be heard. If you’re a lucky enough writer, and you listen carefully, sometimes you will find them on your page. When that happens, you will sit back and look at that prose and say, “Where the heck did you come from?” Then you’ll thank your lucky stars that they decided to pay a visit, because without great characters, what have you got? Just a bunch of sentences.

The next blog to visit
Now to follow this blog hop, wing your way from Perth, Western Australia to the U.K. and spend some time with my good buddy, Kev Heritage Kev has always got interesting things to say.

If you enjoyed these words, and feel compelled to thank me, you could always skip over to my author pages at Smashwords or Amazon and buy a copy of Back Again or one of my other books—it's less than the price of a coffee, wonderful reader. If you want to receive news on my stories and possibly receive some free, cool stuff like books and other goodies subscribe to my newsletter.

Amazon USA:          Susan's Amazon USA
Amazon UK:             Amazon UK
Amazon Australia:   Amazon Australia
Smashwords:           Smashwords
Scribd:                      Scribd

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