Tag Archives: characters

An Evening With The Twins

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Hello dear friends! Stephanie over at Moonrise Book Review was incredibly generous and invited me to write this character interview for her collection! The interview has gone live as of tonight (here), and I’d love to share it with you (below)!!

In a few seconds, you’ll be meeting several characters. Do not be deceived. While this might seem like an interview about Eiry Callas (our tragic Hero), it’s not. This is a character interview of Gavin and Galen Callas (The Twins). Who are they? They are post-modern Greek deities, underworld twin-gods who’ve seamlessly incorporated themselves into the human world. What motivates them? Chaos. While they could sit down and answer all your questions patiently, they’d rather not. You can discover so much more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of conversation… or so some guy named Plato once said.

My approach to these interviews is to always let the characters speak for themselves, so you’ll be reading an interview scene that exists somewhere outside the timeline of the novel. The scene takes place in Eira, the royal city of Tartarus, inside Eiry’s apartments.

An Evening With The Twins:

Close-Up of Anise Swallowtail's WingThe knock at the door came just as Elena was sitting down to a hot cup of tea in her favorite reading chair. It was half past ten and she was alone in Eiry’s apartments. It was the first quiet moment she’d enjoyed all day, and had just pulled the throw over her legs when the sound broke the silence.

Elena held her breath and stayed absolutely still. From the corner of her eye, she watched the door and waited. Hopefully, she’d imagined it. There was a reason she preferred Eiry’s study to the front room with its open archways and antique cases full of artifacts and old manuscripts—the study was small and private.

“We know you’re in there,” came a familiar velvety voice from behind the door, dashing Elena’s hopes of staying under the radar.

Of all the possibilities, the twins knocking at her door meant there was no chance of escape.

Elena was considering her options—and the rare fact that they hadn’t just barged in uninvited—when the doorknob rattled violently. It was followed by the sound of a scuffle behind the door, then a flurry of cursing and fervent whispers. Elena would have laughed, if she didn’t know better. Galen had obviously lost his temper and Gavin had put him in check. 

“Galen’s sorry. Will you let us in?”

Elena jumped in her seat, startled by Gavin’s voice. It hadn’t come from behind the door, but from next to her on the chair. “Jesus, Gavin, you scared the daylights out of me!” Elena turned and glared at him, swatting at his arm. “You already let yourself in, so what’s the point of asking now?” 

“You told me to ask, so I did.” Gavin smiled triumphantly, leaning over the chair’s armrest to place a kiss on Elena’s cheek. He was so pleased with himself, he was bouncing where he stood and humming cheerfully to himself. His chin-length curls bounced along with him and his golden-green eyes glowed softly in the darkness, creating an illusion of innocence that was very far from the truth. “So, you forgive him, right? We need your help and we’re on a super tight schedule.”

Several weeks ago, Elena had a ‘talk’ with the twins about boundaries and the need for knocking. She should have known then that half of it would be lost in translation. “Knock, wait, then walk in after the okay. The order is important, Gav.” Elena shook her head, half amused. He offered his cheek and she returned his kiss, before sitting back in the chair and taking a sip of her tea. “And I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to help you. I had a really long day today and have an early morning tomorrow. Plus, Eiry won’t be happy if he comes home to find y’all here—you know he doesn’t like you guys coming in and out of his rooms whenever you like.” 

“An unhappy Snowflake. How very tragic.” Galen hissed the words into Elena’s ear from behind the chair, his velvet tone sheared at the edges. Elena started, surprised, and he clamped his hand over her mouth before she could yell. When she tried to fight him off, he caught her arm with his other hand and forced her still. “Now now, no need to get all feisty. Eiry’s running errands for our mother, so you and I both know he won’t be home for a while. What’s the harm?”

Elena took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. Being grabbed was bringing back unpleasant memories of the attack in Persephone’s courtyard and she was about to lose it with Galen, which was never a good thing. If she had been sensitive about her personal space before, the ordeal months earlier made her even more sensitive now. She had to remind herself that these were the twins, and she’d come to trust their brand of crazy.

“You should probably let go of her face now,” Gavin whispered to Galen, his eyes intent on Elena’s. She was as stiff as a board and kept looking down at the cup of tea in her hands like she was considering her options. “She looks like she might hit you with that cup. Plus, you’re going to leave marks on her face, and then Snowflake is seriously going to be pissed.”

“Does it look like I care about Eiry’s feelings?” Galen smiled a devilish smile at his brother and then leaned forward, his long black hair spilling over Elena’s shoulder as he ran the tip of his nose along the shell of her ear and up to her temple. He took a deep, shuddering breath and then slowly stepped away, releasing his hold.  

The moment he let go, Elena turned in her chair and smacked Galen across the chest, forgetting all about her resolve to stay calm. The tea went flying, and so did Elena’s cursing. “How many times do I have to tell you to stop sniffing me! And stop being so handsy! You and the rest of your family—”

“Me and the rest of my family, what exactly?” Galen put his hands up and stepped back, a savage smile spreading across his face. It reached his eyes, making them a sharper blue than usual. 

“You’re impossible, the lot of you!” Like a world-class idiot, Elena had played right into their hands. It was always like this with the twins—not a moment of peace. “You owe me a hot cup of tea, Galen, and then the two of you can go back the way you came.” Elena grabbed her now empty cup of tea and stood up from her chair. She shook off the throw, set her cup down on the coffee table and then sat back down, trying her best to resume a calm demeanor. “Like I said, I have an early day tomorrow.” 

“You have an early day every day, and you have another thing coming if you think I’m making you tea.” Galen stared at Elena, defiant as he took a seat in the empty reading chair beside hers. He crossed his right knee over his left, careful not to wrinkle his designer suit, and began to braid his hair. 

“What he means is,” Gavin quickly interjected, dropping to the floor in front of his brother without a care in the world, “we need your help to answer a few questions.”

“Questions? About what?” Elena focused on Gavin and tried to ignore Galen’s blatant staring.

“About Eiry.”

Gavin’s voice was sweet as honey, and his golden gaze pleading. Red flags immediately went up in Elena’s mind. “Seriously you two, I love you and you know I would do almost anything for you, but no. You can ask Eiry himself.”

“I told you, Gav. We should have just tied her up and forced her to talk,” Galen said matter-of-fact, as he tied off the end of his braid. “We would have been done and out by now.”

“We don’t need to use Plan A when we have Plan B,” Gavin reminded him, all business. “Bribes always work.”

“You two realize violence should be Plan B, right, not A.” Elena knew they weren’t listening, but someone had to be the voice of conscience in this group—reason was completely out of the question. “Not that I’m saying violence should ever be part of the plan. And I promise you, I’m above bribes.”

“No one’s above bribes,” the two assured Elena simultaneously, their gazes rising to meet hers at exactly the same time.

Elena hated when they did that. It reminded her of the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp.

“Ele, please,” Gavin cut in before she had a chance to say no again. “The interview is due tomorrow. This is our last chance. We’ve tried to persuade Eiry to do the interview all week but he refuses, so we’ve decided to do it for him. We’re just lost on a few of the questions. We’re prepared to give you something of great value. Plus, Eva won’t mind.” 

“Eva? What does Eva have to do with anything? I already did an interview of Eiry for Eva.”

“She wanted another one,” Galen answered with a shrug.

“Something of great value,” added Gavin, doing his best to dangle his carrot.

“Since when do you two do what Eva asks?”

“Since she made us an offer we can’t refuse.” Gavin grinned, bouncing in his seat. “Something of greeeeat value.” 

“Yes, yes. We’re all being offered things of great value. Go ahead and say it, Gavin. Say what you’re offering for my cooperation, because you won’t stop unless I ask, right?”

Gavin stared up at her with a wounded expression, his bottom lip jutting out as if he was about to cry, but he couldn’t keep it for long. He tried his best to hide a grin, as he reached into the back pocket of his jeans and took out what looked like some kind of card or paper. “Voila! A thing of great value.”

“A piece of paper…” Elena remarked, unimpressed.

“Everyone has a price, Elena, even good little girls like you.” Galen flipped over the card in his brother’s hand and smiled. “A baby picture of Eiry. Trust me when I tell you that it is authentic, and only one exists in the world. It just so happens that the one time he fell in battle, cameras had already been invented.”

Elena was speechless. Two seconds ago, she would have bet her life that she couldn’t be bought. Now, she couldn’t imagine a scenario where she turned down that picture. What were a few questions weighed against that? Plus, she’d really be helping Eiry. If she let the twins do this alone, gods only knew what they would say. “You willing to swear by the Styx that the picture is authentic?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Galen grinned, then leaned forward and offered her his hand. “But don’t take my word for it. You’re the best lie detector out there. See for yourself.”

Elena watched him, wary. He’d caught her off guard with his gesture. He’d sworn by the Styx, which was not taken lightly in his family, and also offered his hand, which no one was really chancing these days. “I’ll accept the picture and help you answer the questions. Verification will not be necessary.”

There was a quiet exchange of furtive glances between the twins, before Gavin handed Elena her picture and produced his list of questions.

“Okay, question number one.”

Gavin cleared his throat, his gaze darting back and forth across the page in his hand. It was obviously an email from Eva. Elena couldn’t begin to imagine what the woman had to offer the twins to ensure their cooperation.

What is your most notable characteristic? Eiry’s, I mean…” Gavin looked up at Elena with a beaming smile. “I say his skills with his scythe.”

“I’m better with a blade than he is, so the scythe is out,” Galen scoffed. “I say all that pallor and stoicism. It’s smexy.” 

Elena shook her head, wondering if this was precisely what Eva had in mind when she asked the twins for help. “His perseverance.” The answer was simple for Elena. Eiry had persevered against all odds, even in the face of so much loss. “Next question, Gavin.”

Gavin blinked, confused. Perseverance did not compute. In the end, he shrugged, wrote it down and then continued down his list. “Question number two. What personal achievement is Eiry most proud of? Normally I would go with something battle related, but I really think he’d say his chess skills. The man can beat the two of us at chess even though we’re unstoppable at fidchell. It defies all logic.”

Elena nodded, pretty sure that wasn’t the right answer, and turned to Galen. “What say you?”

“Probably when he won the gold metal in solo synchronized swimming at the last Games. I didn’t think he had any real talent until then.”

Elena stared at Galen, stupefied. “We’re going to go with saving me when I was a baby. Next question.” Photo or no photo, Eiry should thank his lucky little stars that she was helping.

“You’ll like this one, Ele.” Gavin’s index finger stopped halfway down the paper. “What is Eiry’s most meaningful possession?” He let the question linger and then looked up from his paper to stare at her, pointedly.

“Ummm, No.” Elena shook her head and turned to Galen with a sigh. “Spit it out.”

“A stuffed elephant Lucian gave him, after he fell in battle.”

Galen’s response was deadpan, leaving Elena to wonder—but she knew that way lay madness. Even if such an elephant existed, which it most certainly did not, Elena doubted Eiry would want the whole world to know about it. That meant that Elena needed to come up with a better answer than Gavin’s. She tried to think back on the past few months, but no one possession stood out. In the front room there were piles of artifacts and curios Eiry loved, but Elena couldn’t say any of them were his most meaningful possession. 

The twins were staring at her impatiently and she was about to give up, when it hit her. “The coins,” Elena whispered, more to herself than the twins. “The ones he chooses for an heir when they die.”

The moment Elena said it, there was a heavy silence. When she looked over at the twins, neither one of them would look at her. Galen was playing with his braid again and Gavin was preoccupying himself with his piece of paper.

Elena cleared her throat and pressed on. “Next question, boys.”

Gavin reacted slower than usual. He seemed to read the question to himself several times, before finally looking up to meet Elena’s eyes. “What brings Eiry the greatest joy in life?

“Elena,” Galen answered with unusual haste, turning to face her in his chair. He watched her quietly, then smiled—a smug, arrogant smile. “He’s a miserable shit, but even I can see you make him happy.” 

Elena quickly looked away, then down at her hands on her lap. She could feel the heat rise to her cheeks and hated how embarrassed she felt. Galen’s sudden candor, self-serving as it was, certainly didn’t help. “That one’s not going in there. Keep that one out of the interview. Okay, Gavin?”

Gavin nodded quietly and then continued with his next question, neither agreeing or disagreeing with Galen’s statement. “What is Eiry’s greatest fear?

Elena spoke up before any of them could answer. “Failing to protect the Heir. Next question.”

What is Eiry’s biggest regret?

“Gavin, are you serious? Is this really what Eva sent?” Elena was suddenly furious.

Gavin nodded and pressed his lips into a thin line. He looked uncomfortable, something Elena had never seen.

“I’m not making these up,” Gavin replied, proffering the page in his hand. “You can see for yourself.”

Elena shook her head and gently waved away Gavin’s hand. She was frustrated by the question and had taken it out on Gavin, when he was obviously just the messenger. “I’m sorry, Gav. I didn’t mean to get upset with you. It’s a touchy subject and Eva knows that. Anyone who’s read the book knows Eiry’s biggest regret—not being able to save 38 heirs. That number includes me. Make sure she prints that. Next question.”

How would Eiry define a perfect love?” Gavin asked, his voice high-pitched by the time he got to the last word.

Galen snorted out loud and barely tried to hide it. 

“We’re done,” Elena snapped. “You can tell Eva that she can work with the answers she has. She’s an author. I’m sure she can be creative and make do.”

Gavin pushed himself up on his knees and crawled toward Elena. Once he was kneeling in front of her, he pressed his palms together as if he were praying. “Just one more, Ele. I’ll skip that last one, okay? I promise. We just have to get six answers or we won’t meet our end of the bargain.”

“You shouldn’t beg, Gavin. It’s unseemly,” Galen chided his brother.

“You always make me beg. What’s the difference?” Gavin glared at Galen, made a vulgar gesture with his hand, and then turned to face Elena with a smile. “Tell us a secret about Eiry that no one else knows.

“He watches Project Runway when he thinks no one’s looking.”

 

 

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Such stuff as dreams are made

BCpaperbackIt’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here! Three years and a Cold War With Drop Caps/Small Caps later, it’s finally in print! Physical. Tangible. Definite. My soul made manifest and laid bare for the world to see.

There are no words to describe the feeling. Relief. Elation. Awe. Satisfaction. Euphoria. Joy. Humility. Accomplishment. Pride. All these words, while true, seem two-dimensional.

This is the stuff of dreams.

So when’s the big day? The First Edition Paperback of The Butterfly Crest will be released on November 11th through Amazon! To celebrate, I’ll be giving away 3 signed copies on Goodreads, so please stay tuned in the next few days for more information on that!

But wait, there’s more! Spread The Word Book Blog Tours will be hosting a Virtual Book Tour for The Butterfly Crest from November 10th through the 18th (which will include another giveaway), and The Twins and I have been working on a Character Interview for your reading pleasure (thanks Moonrise Book Blog for the invitation!).

So if you’re an old friend of the beasties or new, we’d love to have you join the celebration!

On the reality of fictional characters

Utamaro2
Beauties Under an Umbrella by Utamaro Kitagawa.

Sometime last week, somewhere in the middle of My Adventures Post-Publishing, I read a blog post by Tracy Cembor that’s stuck with me ever since. In her post, Geek Week: How Real Is Fiction?, Tracy asks: Do fictional characters really exist?

In Tracy’s own words: “If readers know who characters are, what attributes and desires they have, and feel the emotions from their experiences, then how can we say in the way that our mind perceives things, that they aren’t just a little bit ‘real’?”

Tracy’s post stuck with me for two reasons: (1) my past experiences with literary characters (those created by other authors, as well as my own), and (2) it reminded me of something my Philosophy 101 professor said 16 years ago that would ultimately be the catalyst for my own creations.

Now, I’m going to paraphrase here, but my professor’s sentiment was something like this:

The question ‘Does God really exist?’ is misguided. The fact that people believe in something, live their lives in accordance with it, makes that *something* real. 

That sentiment stuck with me. It hovered in the back of my mind as I finished college and went on through my professional education. It gave birth to a premise that would ultimately become the foundation of my fictional writing. In Elena’s world, human belief alters the divine; what begins as abstract can have very physical manifestations.

I think the same can be said about characters. They may not be corporeal, may not exist in the physical sense, but their influence can be substantial. All I have to do is point to Atticus Finch to demonstrate just how powerful an influence a literary character can have. He is literally the epitome of a good lawyer. He is the standard to hold yourself to, and yet he does not physically exist. His influence is so strong that when I took the bar exam in 2004, you were not allowed to use his name as your chosen exam name (I’m presuming the reason was because that many people would choose it).

Tracy is spot on when she says: “The characters in our favorite stories are not two-dimensional paper cutouts; they are fully formed personas with hopes and dreams, wants and desires, strengths and weaknesses… When circumstances (and authors) conspire against them and the you-know-what hits the fan, readers worry for their safety. And when they experience the loss of friends and family, we are grieving right there beside them.”

I was working as a prosecutor when Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince was released. Several of my co-workers and I were reading it at the same time. One morning, everyone arrived at work with red swollen eyes and dressed in black. Without a word, we knew; we had all finished the book and were grieving for Harry’s loss. I have no problem admitting I was also grieving for my own loss.

So, do fictional characters really exist?

To me, 100%. I hold many of them in close esteem. Atticus Finch influenced my choice in career. Jane Eyre my view of passion and independence. Elizabeth Bennet my appreciation for integrity and wit. Simon from Lord of The Flies the importance of being comfortable in your own skin. Those characters might not exist in the physical sense, but their influence can be quantified and seen. They teach us lessons we might not otherwise learn, and inspire us the way historical figures might.

As for my own characters, the more I write about them the clearer they become. I know them as well as I know myself; can verbalize, in Tracy’s words, their “hopes and dreams, wants and desires, strengths and weaknesses”. A thought popped into my head last night while I was going to sleep. I saw the book sitting on my nightstand (Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations), and wondered what books, if any, my characters would have on their own nightstands. The answers came so fast that all I could do was laugh about it:

One glance at any of my Pinterest boards and you’ll be able to get a clear image of their personalities; their likes and dislikes in ways I can’t expound on in my books. The more I explore those personalities, the more excited I get about sharing their stories with you.

I’ll be exploring those personalities further on July 14th, when I participate in a Meet My Character Blog Tour and answer questions as one of my characters. On June 30th, I’ll also be participating in a Blog Hop, which are chained posts where authors answer questions; this particular one is about our writing process. So please stay tuned!

Last but not least, this week’s image is “Beauties Under an Umbrella by Utamaro Kitagawa. Utamaro was an Edo period ukiyo-e artist, famous for his portraits of female beauties known as bijin-ga. I love the richness in color and detail of this particular piece.

On completing appendices and hoping for spring

Yoshida_Kameidô3
Drum bridge at Kameidô shrine Tokyo, woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi.

I am thrilled to report that, after much work, I am at the tail end of completing my appendix. It is far more detailed than I ever considered making it, but I’m happy to say that most of the issues I raised in my last post worked themselves out on their own.

Contrary to my original intent, I did not divide the list by culture or pantheon. Doing so would have required the reader to know in what section to look, which might not always be the easiest task (especially with a ‘miscellaneous’ section). I did, however, compile the list in the divided format, since it made the task much easier for me to keep track of and revise.

The appendix itself ended up being much more detailed than I anticipated, since I decided to be as inclusive as I could rather than just focus on main characters and important places. The most recent draft includes minor characters, terms essential to the storyline (for quick reference), and definitions of non-English words.  I could have chosen to make it a little less comprehensive (middle ground?), but I felt it was important to include anything that would come to bear on the series as a whole later on. Character descriptions were a bit of a toss up; some with only a basic explanation of who/what they are, and others with important details on appearance and personality (surprisingly, the choice came down to pantheon). I’m still on the fence regarding the family tree(s), but I’m leaning more toward adding them from the second book onward (for purposes of not giving anything away).

Right now I’m in the middle of revising and editing. That means I’ll pour over it a million times before handing it off to my husband for the final round. The last decision I’ll have to make will be the page set-up, aesthetically speaking. Seven months after moving, my books are finally out of their boxes and up on their respective shelves (just in time for me to pour over them as reference). I spent most of the weekend looking through a good portion of my book collection to see how they presented their appendices.

If all goes as planned, I should have everything ready to go (and sent off) in the next few weeks. On a side note, Facebook remains on my “to do” list for now (and will stay there until after I send the book off for publishing). My Pinterest account, on the other hand, is alive and well. Since my last post, I’ve created Pin boards for the first three major pantheons in the series and two more characters. I’m currently working on a board for a supernatural character that’s proving difficult to channel (he’s lived for centuries and hasn’t completely assimilated with the modern world), so stay tuned; his board should turn out fun because he can be a little cheeky.

When I started the Pinterest account for the series, I never imagined it would inspire me as much as it has. Pinning as my characters has become another form of expression and exploration. I’m learning things about them that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Evius, for example, can’t resist Pinning images of animals that his wife or child would like. Mr. Muse is drawn to ceramics. Cataline loves Pinning photos of the artists whose work she just Pinned, and Bryce loves anything fashion oriented and just a little macabre. The easiest board, of course, has been Elena’s, which is where the artwork above has come from. Like me, she’s hoping for spring.

On the joys of Pinning

After a little trial and error, I am proud to announce, and share with you all, my exploration into a Pinterest account for the series. I won’t lie, the experience was a little tricky at first (certainly not as smooth sailing as my personal account was), but I think I’ve finally found my rhythm. I’m having almost as much fun Pinning about my characters as I do writing about them. Hopefully, the boards will give you a little glimpse into the characters and settings in the series; I’ve certainly learned a little more about them through the experience. I plan to keep Pinning and experiencing as much as possible, so please don’t be shy and “follow” to your heart’s content. Just remember that the Pins are chosen for the feelings they evoke, not particular faces or people. Browse/click the links below, and enjoy!

A look at my character boards:

Elena

Cataline

Mr. Muse

Bryce

Livia Callas

Evius

On invoking the ethos

The biggest surprise for me in writing my first novel came after I had written it. I won’t get into the issue of the editing process now, but suffice to say I’ve had to reread each chapter a hundred times. I know each sentence so intimately that if my husband had a question about something, I could follow it without a hint of the context – I would know instinctively what came before it and what came after.

I know what you’re thinking. Why shouldn’t I know that? I wrote the thing, after all. I came up with the ideas and the concepts, and I painstakingly put them to paper. But the truth is, you go into a kind of trance when you write. I would spend eight hours typing away, and when I was done I would reread what I had written with the same eager curiosity as I would read a brand new book.

I still experience the same thing today—that’s the surprise. I can open the book and experience the same fervor I do when I read something new. I don’t get bored with it. It’s like someone else wrote the entire thing.

Where am I going with this?

During my last post, I talked about writers as instruments. The story exists independent of us, and we are simply the mechanism through which it takes physical form. I believe the reason for that is the characters. As I mentioned before, in my experience, they exist independently of the written form; they live and breathe in a writer’s mind, and in my case it was the characters telling the story—that’s why I can reread the book a thousand times and always be surprised.

I don’t think I’m alone in this view. Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.”

These living people carry the book. They are the souls the reader connects with; what invokes the ethos, so to speak.

So before the setting, plot, subplots, hooks, imagery, conflicts, et al, comes the characters. And if they’re anemic in any way, if they aren’t authentic, chances are the foundation of your story will collapse.

So how do you develop those kinds of characters?

For me, it always starts with what I call the pith, which means the essence of something; a forceful and concise expression of it. It usually takes the shape of a sentence; an undeniable truth about the character. That truth can change, but only in exceptional circumstances.

For instance, when I think of Anne Rice’s Louis, I would say his pith is merciful death. For Lestat, it would be The Brat Prince. I didn’t make up these descriptors. If you’ve read the books you know the characters have been described by the author in exactly these terms, and in my opinion they express the crux (pith) of those characters; what propels them forward throughout the entire story (as the writer, when I’m lost or confused about how to proceed or how a character should react I turn to their pith).

The first few chapters of The Butterfly Crest introduce the reader to three main characters: an unnamed one (let’s call him Mr. Muse), Elena Vicens (the protagonist), and Cataline Ferrá (supporting actress). These are their piths:

  • Mr. Muse – unyielding and immutable
  • Elena – still waters run deep
  • Cataline – beguiling decadence

Those are their truths; their best, but also their worst, qualities. Everything about them begins and ends with those words. From there, I build the character, layer by layer. I go into meticulous detail, imagining (shaping) everything about them—facial structure, body type, likes and dislikes, food preferences, what their home/furniture/decor looks like, what side of the bed they sleep on, what music they listen to, speech pattern, mannerisms, etc. I even go so far as to find avatars for them (images of a face that fits what I imagined), and images of what their wardrobe would look like and their favorite items. I also think about their past and their background (even if it isn’t relevant to the plot) because it is a major factor in the authenticity of their personality. The idea is to shape the character until I can slip into their skin and completely lose myself in them.

That’s not to say I have them fully formed when I start writing. Some of the characters I’ve developed for years (like Mr. Muse), but others are completely new (Elena and Cataline). Of those, the major ones I develop as thoroughly as I can before starting to write (during the outline stage), and the minor ones I begin abstract and develop with the story. Some even burst onto the page spontaneously (like Cataline did) and assert themselves (usually in a very visceral fashion). I write fantasy and focus a great deal on world mythology, so in some instances there’s a footprint I have to follow, but that only gives me a skeleton; I still have to give the character flesh and make it entirely my own. Everything around me influences the process—photography, music, other cultures, art, fashion, movies, people, my own personality traits (completely isolated and exaggerated).

Whatever your method might be, if you don’t create living people (if you don’t invoke the ethos through your characters) everything else will be for naught.

I recall settings and storylines, but I’ve only ever fallen in love with living people.

The case of the wandering ego

You’ve decided to write your first book. You sit down in front of a computer. You have your cup of coffee or tea in hand. Maybe you’re sitting in your favorite chair or that perfect nook you found at your local library or coffee shop.

I’m sure in the back of your mind you have an idea. A plan. Perhaps a semblance of the story you want to tell. It’s taking shape, becoming clearer, even if it’s a little abstract.

You take a deep breath, put your hands on the keyboard… and nothing happens.

You know the story (at least the important points), you know your characters (hopefully), but for some reason, everything escapes you. It all becomes elusive. You had your vision, your goal, but now it’s wandering.

For me, it was a case of a wandering ego.

I knew my story and my characters. I knew the important points and I had a plan! But I sat for a week in front of my computer and nothing of substance came out. I tried visualizing it, massaging it, tempting it, forcing it… but all I got was a three page opener that didn’t do a thing for me. It was anemic. The characters, the context, the location, the scenery—they were all pale, like one-dimensional cutouts. I would sit and stare at the blinking cursor forever, completely annoyed.

There was too much noise in my head. Like any other writer, there were other stories and characters I had written about; so that when I sat down to write, they were the ones that were literally bleeding onto the page. I kept trying to force my muse in another direction—the one I had chosen. My plan had created a box, a road map for a storyline that I refused to deviate from.

My ego got in the way.

I forgot I was the vessel. The story existed somewhere out there in the aether, and as the writer I was just the tool, the instrument that’s supposed to give it life. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? But it’s true. You hear about it frequently in art (Michelangelo, for example, believed that as a sculptor he merely revealed a figure that already lived, hidden, within the stone) but it applies to all forms of it, even writing.

I was so obsessed with my vision, that I couldn’t see past it. I had married myself to my plan, and I’d be damned if I was going to write something different. So I didn’t write anything at all. I deleted the three pages that had taken me days to write, and nothing else came out.

After days of this kind of self-torture, I confided in a close friend. Her response? It was simple—“Just write about what you love.”

Translation? Be the ball. “Stop thinking…let things happen…and be…the ball.”

Now, I love Caddyshack as much as the next person, but I’m not that enlightened yet. I’m the kind of person who fidgets when I try to meditate. I can’t empty my mind. Just thinking about it makes me want to crawl out of my skin. How in the heck was I supposed to be the ball? Plus, anyone who knows me knows that what I love could be one of a million different things; I’ve been known to be a little obsessive about my interests, and of those there are many. How on earth was I supposed to hone in on the one?

Turns out my friend was right.

After being stubborn and refusing to give in for several days after that, one day I just let go of the plan. I decided to… just write. Stream of consciousness. Whatever decided to come out.

I wrote three paragraphs, three small paragraphs that turned out to be the catalyst for my entire book (never mind they ended up being cut from the final draft).

All three were about him, a character I’d written about for years. I’d worn his skin and explored his world a thousand times—but I’d never considered writing a book around him, not once, because the whole time I’d been “planning” to write about something else. Turns out, of all my characters, I loved channeling him the most.

You hear all the time from writers that their characters have a mind of their own, but you don’t really appreciate the depth of what they’re saying until you experience it yourself; until one of them screams and yells so loud in your head that you can’t ignore it. In my case, he screamed so loud it changed my entire plan.

How much, you ask? The only thing that stayed the same was the genre.

Characters or storyline? The chicken or the egg? Obviously they’re parts of a whole, but for me it was a singular character, and one who isn’t even the protagonist. Once I had that, everything else fell into place.

Stories can’t exist without characters, but the opposite isn’t true. Characters exist independently of a storyline. They are born and grow in your mind, able to live an entire existence without ever making it onto the page.

Have a plan, but always be open to changing it. You would be surprised where it could lead in the end.