I mentioned in a prior post that I begin a book or a story without an outline or a list of characters – although considerable research into settings and time period so I don’t have to worry about that part while I’m writing the story.
But one thing I always do before writing is to ensure I have real passion for what I’m about to uncover in the story.
Whether it’s a new main character (as has been the case for Winter Fade and Glowstar) or a returning character in a different setting and place within her own life (as with Firefly Kiss, Snowflake Promise, and the stories in Becomings) I need to be able to feel what this character is feeling, and feel it deeply. In doing so, I gain insights into what she will do, how she will respond, and where she will go from there.
All of my books and stories begin with feeling. Winter Fade opens with a glimpse of the main character’s isolation and loneliness, the helpless feeling she has at not knowing anymore which way to go, and afraid to choose a direction for fear it may be wrong. The entire story is centered around this theme – events overtake her that force her to make choices – for good or ill – and to live with the consequences. As she confesses near the end to a human she has enraptured, “It’s been really hard for me. It’s not a life I chose for myself, but I’ve made the best I can from it.”
Firefly Kiss picks up only a few weeks after the end of Winter Fade, and Imoen is far different than she had begun in the prior book. Yet a sense of loneliness remains, even if its cause has changed. Her feelings are more complex, stirred by memories and fears of loss of people she loves, and a growing awareness that she has more lessons – including some very hard ones – to be learned.
Snowflake Promise finds an even more mature Imoen. As self-assured in some ways as she was in other ways when Firefly Kiss began, she is at a different stage in her life and faces new feelings of doubt and new challenges to overcome.
All of these feelings tie into the external crises Imoen faces through the course of the three books. She ends each book a very different person than she began. And I’m also speaking internally rather than tacking on special powers or the like – something that happens with some frequency in the genre. One facet of heavily plotted books that I have seen is that some – not all – show little character development because too much focus was placed on lining the plot elements into place and not enough on developing themes and the characters themselves.
Readers love to see a character grow and end a story different than they began it. We see ourselves in these characters and want to believe that the crises meant something – that they brought about changes within the characters who experienced them and in ways we can imagine happening within ourselves.
I made a deliberate choice not to have the vampires in the Winter Fade books gain strength and power with age. As Lucan tells Imoen early in the story, “Age gains our kind nothing more than experience, and only for those who are receptive to it.”
When you add power, you lose weakness – and you find yourself forced to discover ever-more-clever ways to manufacture “flaws” so the super-powered character can be endangered enough to still present an enjoyable reading experience. This is a trap some authors have fallen into, partly from a desire to “grow” a character and partly I think because authors have a tendency to fall in love with the characters they’ve begun to know so intimately, and there is a desire to nurture the character and protect them.
But an author’s responsibility is to make characters face dangers – and not token ones that the author can easily write the character out of – and particularly not in a deus ex machina manner where the author’s hand can literally be seen dipping into a story, plucking up a character and rescuing them in some unlikely manner. Imoen has the same powers at the end of the third book as she showed by the third chapter of the first book. What she develops over the course of all three books are experience, practice, and a deep and abiding trust in her friends.
Back to feelings – I began Glowstar with an understanding of Alannah’s deep despair, a feeling that comes alive from the first chapter along with the unusual nature of her relationship with Eamon and the divided feelings it causes within her. The story continued with these feelings as they evolved along the axis of the plot, all the way through its resolution.
Isabel began on a different note. I understood her character but I wanted to know where she really came from and what shaped her. What I found out was rather fascinating, and made sense.
A similar story happened in Darya – where the origin of her character is explored and the events that made her what she came to become are seen.
Katharine I felt was closer in the story to the person she is in Winter Fade, because her character has always struck me as possessing an inherent sureness beyond her years, even as a human. The story gave the reader a chance to see how some of that sureness was tested by the events she experienced in Chicago in 1863.
All of this is one reason why I don’t prefer to do a detailed outline for stories. I’ll usually have a fragment of an opening scene in mind, and often a similar fragment of an idea for an ending crisis – but I have to know the main character and what she’s feeling inside before I have the seeds of a story.