Tag Archives: character writing

Recognition and Acceptance

It’s not you, Megan. It’s me.

We’ve started writing the sequel to Love at First Plight, and I am finding the process to be both easy and a challenge at the same time. I love writing my character, Megan Wynters. I really do. Slipping into her character is like sliding my feet into my favourite and most comfortable pair of shoes or like wrapping myself in a warm blanket.

Working on Book 2

At the same time, writing Megan can sometimes be a challenge. It’s fun challenge, mind you, but it’s a challenge all the same. The reason isn’t because I find her difficult to write, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The trouble is that my personal writing technique can frustrate me, at times.

I am the type of writer who is in a continual state of self-analysis and who relies on structure to tell a story and to bring my character to life. While this does have its advantages, where it puts me at a disadvantage is that I tend to have a difficult time getting started.

In other words, I get ready to write, but instead of hitting the keys, my fingers remain poised above the keyboard as my mind processes the steps that I will take. Finally, I begin to type slowly, but steadily, as I figure out how I want to form the first sentence and build the first paragraph. Eventually, my fingers will fly across the keyboard as I let my imagination flow, but I’ve always been slow to start.

Even though writing Megan comes naturally to me, I have never sat down at my computer with the intention of writing her character and immediately typed full speed ahead. I build up speed over time.

While this usually isn’t a problem for me, when there are time constraints, I don’t always feel like I have the luxury to take the time I need to comfortably write as much as I want to complete.

This is the main challenge I am facing right now, as I write Book 2 in the Perspective series. It isn’t that I don’t know how to write my main character or that I don’t know how to get inside her head. It is that it takes me a surprising amount of time to get into the groove of storytelling, especially at the start.

After years of writing, I’ve learned that my particular creative writing skill requires a great deal of focus, structure, and organization. I need to write in a distraction-free zone, I need to channel my character, and I edit while I create. Yes, I’m guilty of editing while I work, which is something that most writers warn other writers not to do. Ideally, when writing creatively, you should write first and edit later, so you don’t disrupt your creative flow; a process that should look like this: Write. Edit. My writing pattern, on the other hand, functions more like this: Write-edit-write-edit. Edit. As you have likely guessed, writing this way can significantly slow me down.

That being said, what I’ve come to realize is that even though others might cringe at my writing technique, I can’t change the way that I write and I don’t want to change the way that I write; it works for me. I have developed my own style and my own creative method and it’s not wrong; it’s simply mine. It may not be the fastest process around, which can really frustrate me, especially when I’m pressed for time, but I’ve recognized and accepted that that’s how my creativity flows.

Unfortunately, all too often I’ve compared my writing style and speed to Julie’s and to other writers and this, in my opinion, has been my most self-destructive habit as a writer. I should never compare my skill to someone else’s; no writer should. You can appreciate another’s talents, but you shouldn’t judge your own talents against theirs or feel that because you don’t possess certain skills that the ones you do have are somehow less significant or have less value.Getting started is the hardest part

The bottom line is that comparing how I write and how I create to how someone else does it, serves no positive purpose. On the contrary, it makes me doubt my abilities as a writer. It makes my self-confidence shrink and my self-criticism swell. It makes me think illogically that I can’t write the story of a character that I’ve written dozens of times before, which is ridiculous.

Thankfully, this is an issue with which I am struggling less and less. However, I would be a liar if I told you that I don’t doubt my abilities as a writer and storyteller from time to time. Nevertheless, at the moment, I’m pleased to say that Megan’s side of the story is progressing well and I’m immensely enjoying the creative writing process as I always do.

So you see, any time I think I won’t be able to write Megan, it has nothing to do with her character and everything to do with my suddenly becoming ludicrous and losing my nerve as a writer. All I have to do is write her to realize that I haven’t lost my touch.

Therefore, if you ever find yourself doubting your abilities as a writer, try slipping into the role of one of the characters that you’ve created, and hopefully they will remind you of your incredible talents as you bring this character to life with every word that you write.

That is exactly what Megan does for me every time that I slip into her character.

Thanks, Megs 🙂

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If I’m Not Normal, What Am I?

Do you think you could define yourself using one word? Chances are you couldn’t. Certain things about you may be “normal” or “weird” or “geeky”, etc., etc. but, just like characters, no one person is defined by a single label. We’re made up of far too many pieces of our own unique puzzle to truly be just typical or normal.

Bamboo PandaAt first, when creating a story, we tend to typecast our characters. For example, there are the main “good guys/heroes”, the main “bad guys/villains” and then a supporting cast of characters that could be made of up of the “normal”, the “weirdo”, the “sweetheart”, the “queen B”, the “insensitive jerk”, the “nice guy”, the “double-crosser”, the “nerd”, and that one mysterious “creepy” character that just makes your skin crawl. Speaking of which, what is with that creepy character and why do most stories we read have one? (And yes, we have a creepy character in our story…more than one actually, LOL!).

The point I’m trying to make here is that often, when we initially create characters, we usually give them defining characteristics (i.e. hair color, eye color, age, height, gender, possibly a brief background story, and personality traits such as happy, grumpy, sleepy, dopey, bashful, and any other dwarf that’s not Doc, etc.). This is a natural part of the creation process when we’re first fleshing out the story and we need to know what kind of role this character will play, how they will impact the story, and what they will do. In other words, we are defining who they are, as well as their purpose.

However, for any of you who have written a story, what you’ve likely discovered is that once you move away from the bullet points that have so far defined your character, and you actually begin writing, this character is no longer a stereotype that perfectly fits into the original parameters you created for them. They take on a life of their own and become so much more than a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. They become complex. They develop unplanned idiosyncrasies and many other components that make real people individuals and unique from one another.

Real people are not one-dimensional, which is why characters in a story shouldn’t be one-dimensional, either. If a character is so superficial they can be summed up with a single defining word, they’d be pretty boring in my opinion. They would hold no mystery, because you would always know what they’re going to do, and if you can always predict a character’s next move without fail, you’re in for one very boring read.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader, I respond to characters with attributes I can relate to and who also have traits I don’t personally have, but I find fun, exciting, and appealing. I can admit that when it comes to getting goo-goo eyed over a male character, I’m a girl who is far more attracted to the bad-guy than I am the hero. Why? Villains are fun! They do things and say things that I know are not right, but that I can adore in the fiction world, because in reality I am safe and in control. Equally, I can say with certainty that many of my favorite characters in fiction books are not people I would like in real life, in fact, I’d probably loath more than half of them.

Aww Panda!That’s the beauty of fantasy though, isn’t it? You can like people you’d otherwise hate, try new things you’d never do in real life, and walk the dark alley by yourself and not be afraid of what or who may be waiting for you in it. This is why I love reading fiction and I LOVE writing it. Nothing is done that cannot be undone. You are the master of your own universe.

That being said, as I stated in my last post, “Even Superheroes Need Limits”, characters do require certain limitations in order for them to make sense and not be too unbelievable. Nonetheless, these important limits should not restrict a character’s personality to a file cabinet with alphabetized folders.

As Julie mentioned in her blog, “Baking a Cake of Lies”, characters, just like people, will do things that seem uncharacteristic or strange in certain situations with the “right motivation”. There will be times when a character will make unusual choices and act oddly. They evolve with time and change based on their circumstances, just as we all do. As my co-writer perfectly put it in her post – “A character isn’t something that is set in stone.”

Now, to answer the question that I made the title of my post – “If I’m not normal, what am I?” – The answer is I am me. I am not set in stone and I can’t be truly defined by one label, stereotype, or even summed up in a single paragraph or a book series the size of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, no one can…well, no one can apart from those select few individuals who love to prove they are the exception (we all know one).

Thus, as time passes, more pieces are found and added to the puzzle that is me. We’re all enigmas and it’s becoming clearer to me that so are the characters I write.

Thanks for reading!

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Baking a Cake of Lies

Last week, I had a conversation with Amanda in which I proudly declared that I had successfully cut many of the unnecessary sugary treats out of my diet. I’m not on a weight loss diet, but I am quite health conscious and I struggle with the havoc that a sweet tooth plays in the efforts to live a health-conscious lifestyle. I don’t know anybody who loves cake donuts more than I do.

Julie Campbell writer - cake of liesHowever, after eliminating the excess sugar from what I have been eating (no, I’m not trying to live a sugar-free life and no, I don’t use artificial sweeteners – don’t get me started on that), I have been discovering that I have a lot more control over my hunger levels and I find that I don’t crave sweets nearly as much as I once did. In fact, other than wanting a little yogurt cup after dinner, I don’t crave sweets at all anymore.

On the evening of that conversation, as I was taking ingredients out of the cupboard to make dinner, I discovered a mix for a spice cake that was riding the line of its expiration date. Since I loathe wasting food, I had a mixing bowl out on the counter and was cracking two eggs into the cake mix before I could realize that what I was effectively doing was whipping up a cake of lies. I was doing exactly the opposite of what I’d just finished telling Amanda!

The universe clearly knew what I was up to, because it decided to punish me for my dishonesty. Since it was a very small spice cake of lies (it fit into the loaf pan for my toaster oven), I decided to be environmentally friendly (and to keep my electricity bill down) and I baked my cake of lies in the toaster oven, instead of the full-sized oven. Like most lies, this cake grew and grew and grew, until it touched the top heating elements. This caused copious amounts of black smoke to billow out of the small appliance as I threw open the windows to stop the smoke detectors from going off.

Still determined not to waste food (clearly, I have a problem), I popped the cake out of its pan and set it on a plate, finishing the cooking in the microwave (after having sliced the blackened layer off the top). A quick nuking is, apparently, all it takes to finish the baking of a cake of lies. How was it? Honestly? It was the best spice cake I’ve ever made. I don’t know if it was the fire, the microwaves, or the lies, but it was the perfect texture and flavour. Once the clouds of black smoke were out of my home, I could tell that the cake smelled great, too.

What lesson did I learn from this adventure? It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be ridiculous about trying to save food. It wasn’t that I should remember that cakes rise a lot in the oven. It wasn’t even that I shouldn’t tell friends that I’m off baked sugar treats when I have cake mix in the cupboard.

The lesson I took from it was that people will do things that seem to be quite out of character and bizarre, provided they have the right motivation. Without knowing that I was trying not to waste food, it would have looked like I’d completely lost my mind (it may still seem that way to you, though not to the same degree as it would if I didn’t have the justification behind my behaviours).

This has given me some important perspective when it comes to judging the actions of my characters. I’m always afraid that they will do things that are “out of character” and that I won’t notice because I’m so used to the story I’ve written. However, even real people do things that are out of character. A character isn’t something that is set in stone. Circumstances can easily change the way we react. Also, fictional characters,  like real people, can’t always have days in which we’re at our very best. Sometimes, we find ourselves nuking a burnt cake of lies.

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Who am I? (No, Not 24601)

While re-reading and editing the Book, I have come to a discovery that I have found to be rather amusing. As was the case when I was writing these pieces for the first time, I am – once again – allowing myself to become lost in the characters that make up their fictional world.

Julie Campbell author character developmentI’ve always considered this ability to be a very positive one, as it helps me to remain truer to who the characters are, and better gauge what they would think about various circumstances and how they would react to the situations that they must face.  It’s like a form of “method acting” as a writer. It is important, because it stops me from forcing my own personal reactions onto the character.

This practice, as useful as it may be, also appears to have quite an unexpected side. I have found it rather entertaining to note that when I’ve been disturbed from writing a cute character or a kind one, my reaction to the interruption is often similar to the one that the character would have, while in his or her “current” mental state (in the place that I am editing in the “Book”). What isn’t quite as fun are the times in which I am writing and editing someone unpleasant or downright villainous. Those reactions to the distraction aren’t quite as warm – to say the least.

It has made me think back to the early days of the Book, over a decade ago, when Amanda and I were originally talking on the phone and writing the first pages together. I can quite distinctly remember snapping at my sister on more than one occasion, just because she came to my bedroom door to tell me that dinner was ready or to ask me if I’d like anything.  It wasn’t her fault, but she interrupted the wrong character!

The influence that writing characters can have on one’s own behaviours is quite a shocking one, if you’re anything like me. While it is an experience that I thoroughly enjoy, it makes me think about the nature of a real individual’s personality. As much as we may form strong characters for ourselves throughout our lives, it really doesn’t take much to change our reactions and behaviours to ones that are completely outside of what we believe our nature to be.

For me, simply imagining what it is like to be someone else is enough for me to temporarily behave as they would. Naturally, it isn’t a lasting impact, and I don’t suffer from a multiple personality disorder (nor do I).  At the same time, even though this change in myself is one that continues for only a split second, it is still quite notable that who I am can be that fragile under the right circumstances.

I’m not exactly sure what to make all of this, quite yet, but it is something that I will be mulling over for a while. After all, this may be an important thing to understand when it comes to making certain that my characters in the Book are reacting in a genuine and realistic way. A person’s actions aren’t always a matter of doing what a list of character traits prescribes. Sometimes, they can surprise you.

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