How to Write a Novel // Part 2: My Tale of Finding a Character Worth Loving

I read that Stephanie Meyer, author of the runaway bestselling Twilight series, had muses give her ideas, like in a freaking Greek myth: MUSES.  I may have found it on her blog or something.  But, the story goes  like this: Steph wasn’t a professional writer or anything, she was a stay-at-home mom with a background in … I don’t remember (did some research, she studied English at BYU and was a receptionist pre-babies).  Soon after the birth of her second or third child she had an epic dream.  In the dream, a glittery vampire boy lays in a meadow with an average teenage girl, he’s trying not to bite/kill her, and all the while falling in love with her. The next day Ms. Meyer opens a new document on her computer and writes the scene from her dream (ends up being Chapter 13). Thusly, out her fingers in a matter of months flies the Twilight universe with its super moral and yet still bloodsucking vampire boy entwining himself (sometimes literally) with a typical (if not completely mundane) human girl.

This is what solid gold fiction looks like off camera

That time when her dream became a book that became a movie with actors being awkward in a meadow.

She wrote the story as a gift for her sister, who loved it and encouraged Stephanie to send it to publishers. She shopped it around a little bit (15 inquires is a little, seriously, like so very little) and boom bang shamalamadingdong it’s a worldwide bestselling mega-franchise.

Now, I do not want to diminish the work and effort Ms. Meyer did on honing and crafting and editing her books, I just want to share a story that is completely and entirely different from, and does not even reside on the same planet, as my own.

My characters did not come to me from the ether.  And, most of the time they are quite slippery to hold onto  (another way of saying ‘sometimes I have no effing idea what or who I’m writing‘). They are made out of my brain working very hard to craft people worth reading, people worth loving.

So, here’s how I got to my cast of characters:

1.  I spent the lion’s share of the last decade hanging out with real life teenagers pretty regularly. It was not with the expressed purpose of turning them into fiction, it just so happens that I genuinely enjoy almost-adult humans and find their entire selves the most interesting of any other kind of human. I could (and probably will) write more about why teens are the best.

2.  I remembered and rehashed my high school experience with friends (sorry for that guys – you know far too much about 16 year old Erin, but luckily I know a lot more about 16 year old Erin too, and will endeavor to only be the most whole parts of her)

3.  I decided to figure out the type of character I was writing before figuring out what type of story I was writing. (i.e. there is still very little plot in the novel, its more of a setting up the pins and watching them fall kinda situation)

4.  Along the to-plot-or-not-to-plot lines, I wanted a character that was highly relatable and lovable, also flawed, more than I wanted a scenario full of danger & intrigue (those things are not mutually exclusive btw). So, I made a list of qualities, quirks and internal dilemmas of real teen people I know, narrowed the list to my favorites, and then started writing scenes that let me work some of that out. For instance: My girl character loves order, and uses it to cope with chaos, so I wrote a scene where she is doodling a zig-zag pattern around the edge of her beloved mint green day planner on the first day at a new school.

5a.  I wrote out some autobiographical stories in the voice of my main character that seemed very teen – first kisses, best kisses, obsessive crushes, feeling lonely in large crowds, driving a car when I still had to think about what I was doing … you know, the usual.

5b. I deleted a lot of that, but the parts that remain are my very favorite parts.

6. I wrote a secondary voice and main character for months that I ended up deleting because I was having a hard time empathizing with her and I found her story ultimately un-interesting, or less-interesting – she also happened to be 30+ years old (see #1). Delete Delete Delete

At the end of the day I wanted to create a honest and realistic teenager. I am finding it NOT simple.  It is easy to be cliche or to just write myself – which ends up reading 32 not 16.  At the very least I am doing some pretty solid post-processing 16 years in the making, and that’s good.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald-

Below are two photos of me at 16/17 years old for your enjoyment. You can find Part One: My Tale of Getting Started here.

in a boyfriend's letterman jacket - yeah, I was that girl

in a boyfriend’s letterman jacket  – yeah, that was a thing that happened – as you can see I feel weird about it too **

A little happy and a little uncertain and a little 90's hair-fabulous. That about sums it up.

A little happy and a little uncertain and a little 90’s hair-fabulous. That about sums it up.

** not a reflection on said ex-boyfriend, just that I had lettered in 2 (maybe 3) different sports while in HS and should’ve been wearing my own jacket.

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How to write a novel // Part 1: My Tale of Getting Started

By: Erin

moleskine

at starbucks taking selfies of my writing process today

There are so many excellent blogs and articles and books on this topic. As someone who has not finished even one manuscript I cannot tote myself an expert – not even a little bit. But, I assume if you are reading this you are curious about the novel writing process, or maybe just mine. So, here goes…

How I got started…

When I was six my first grade teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up. A lot of boys said Firefighters or Policemen or Pilots (not the lawyers or store managers or electrical engineers they would become) and a lot of the girls said Nurses, Mommies, and also, Firefighters (maybe the girls were a little more reality-based than they boys, but that’s a blog for another time).

I said “I want to be an Author when I grow up.”

You should know that in 1st grade my favorite foods were camembert cheese and abalone. So yeah, I was a weird kid.

Once I learned to read I loved stories about fairies, fantasy and magic. Teachers were instructed to turn me away from windows, particularly windows with trees, because I would spend class time making up stories in my head about all the little people who skipped between branches and stole kisses behind green leaves, instead of listening to directions on how to fill out grammar worksheets.  I can think of much worse ways to spend one’s easily distracted childhood. For nothing came as close to touching the magic in stories as the making of the stories themselves.  Though, in retrospect I could have used the grammar lessons.

I spent years trying to reign in the ole’ imagination so I could, you know, learn how to do the simple math my phone now does for me. But, all joking aside, somewhere along the line I forgot that I wanted to write. Going through years of higher education with too much required reading and even more required writing distracted me. I learned a trade. I became an intellectual expert in sitting down with people who are suffering, called myself a therapist. I would get good at it, I would work, and then, maybe, with enough street-cred, I would retire as a writer. Become a memoirist, or something.

Along the way, I also forgot how much I loved to read. I was that kid that would come home from school, sit down with a book in the den, and read until mom had to come by and turn on a light. Sometimes I would skip dinner.   I don’t know when I stopped doing this.  I figured I had a hard time reading as much as I used to because I harbored a secret fear that I would love the world of my books more than my real life. Either that or it was because my real life was pretty damn busy and I had no time for reading like a child. Whatever it was, I had forgotten something intrinsically me.

Then, exactly a year ago our little family went to Hawaii for a month. (I know. I know. Hawaii. For. A. Month!!! It’s crazy and you can be jealous. Hell, I am jealous of 2012 Erin right now. I could tell you that leading up to the trip we had a total sh*t year and we deserved it, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. We did have a horribly stressful year, but no one deserves luxury. We are lucky and blessed and insanely grateful. That’s it.).  I made a single goal for the trip: to read 10 books.

2 of the books I read were written by friends of mine (both worth a read, by the way).   It was in their reading that I realized something terrible about myself over the last decade. I was a pissed-off cranky reader.  I had stopped being generous, I had stopped enjoying the process.  It was because my friends were so like me that I was sent into a tailspin of insane jealousy. Like, so out-of-mind covetous. And it wasn’t just Megan and Anne, it was every author I ever read. I was, so effing sick with envy that I had suppressed my childhood insatiable desire for books. It wasn’t that I had been busy. It wasn’t the fear of real life being less real that fictional life. It wasn’t even the pages upon pages of research paper writing. It was pure raging, green as jade, gouge out my eyeballs, jealousy.

While reading a entirely different YA fiction and after the hundredth audible groan/sigh/growl by me, Mr. Man said, “Erin, what is your problem?” only kinder (he is always kinder than I report).

I responded, “I think I need to write a book.”

To which, he said, “Ok. Then why don’t you do it already.”

So, I started writing my thoughts in a moleskine journal. They were all over the place.  I knew I wanted to write about a teenager. I knew I didn’t want to write a dystopian novel (though i heart them muchos). And, that was about it.

I wrote at night and kept a google-doc open on multiple devices around the house, adding sentences here and there. In February I started writing one full day a week, thanks to my sister watching my kiddos. I made headway. I picked up more books to read. I feel back in love with reading.

And, frankly, if I never finish this novel, if it never makes its way into a stranger’s hands, if it just sits in my computer title-less, I will still be grateful. Because, I am trying, and I am writing, and it feels like breathing.

I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them

.Anne Rice

Stay tuned for How to Write a Novel // Part 2: My Tale of Finding a Character Worth Loving