Posts Tagged ‘work in progress’

5 Steps for adding a new character to your (completed) novel

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

When my agent told me that I needed to add a new character to my novel – the one I’ve been working on for years and have revised countless times and considered this close to submission-ready – I wanted to make like my butterscotch tabby, Sunny, and curl up under a blanket and shut down.

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But then I remembered that I’d done it before. When I was working with my editor on FLYAWAY, she also suggested that I add a new character – a “decoy boy” to distract readers from the inevitability of the main character, Stevie, getting together with the major love interest, Alan. My character The Professor was born, and he actually became the character who generated the most comments and questions from students in my school visits.

So in my quest to add a new character to my current WIP, I went back to the process I had used before and came up with these five steps:

1. Clarify the new character’s role in your novel. Will this character serve as a decoy, as The Professor did in FLYAWAY, or will they fill another role? Other possible roles might include ally or mentor to the main character or proxy for the antagonist. Being clear on the new character’s role in your novel will help you determine how much weight to give him in terms of page time and backstory.

2. Determine the relative importance of the character. Is your new character a walk-on in one scene, or will she play a major role throughout the book? The new character my agent suggested that I add in this revision only appears in a few scenes and has little direct impact on the plot. Because of his relatively minor importance, I was careful not to flesh him out so fully that he drew undue reader attention.

3. Decide which other characters the new character will connect with. How tightly is this character woven into the weave of the story? Does he interact mostly with the main character, or will he connect to one or more minor characters as well? Will he live in one plot line or be part of several subplots? In order to weave my new character more closely into my story, I gave one of my main character’s friends a secret crush on him.

4. Create a name and a backstory relative to the character’s weight in the plot. This step is tricky. We writers love to create characters. I could have easily written a 10-page biography of my new character in which I explored his childhood and how it has impacted his current hopes, dreams, and fears. But since my character has relatively little importance compared to my major and supporting characters, I fleshed out only the essential elements of his backstory. I made notes on his name and age, his status in the school hierarchy, his interest in music, and why he’s attracted to my main character. That’s all the information I really needed. And because his relative importance to the plot is so minimal, I decided that my main character wouldn’t refer to him by name; she calls him Knit Hat Boy.

5. Choose the scenes in which the character will appear. Now that you’ve determined your character’s role in your novel, decided on her relative importance, and created an appropriate name and backstory, it’s time to “shoehorn” her into your already completed book. To complete this step, I read through my manuscript, and using Comments in Track Changes, noted the location of each scene where my new character would appear. Some of these were scenes I’d written previously that I planned to revise to include him; others were scenes I needed to add.

With your backstory notes and Comments in front of you, the final step, of course, is to write your new character into the novel. Easy? No. Worth it? In my case, yes. Thanks to my agent’s advice, I now have a new character who adds one more subtle layer of depth to my story.

Have you ever had to write a new character into an already completed manuscript? How did it go for you? What were the challenges you encountered?

Fearless Revision

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Tomorrow is the new moon, which means I will launch into a major revision of my novel. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but I believe in the cycles of the earth, and the new moon is a time for planting seeds and therefore the perfect time to start a major project. Anyway. I’ve spent the last month gearing up for this revision, which means doing things like:

1. Re-reading the manuscript. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I find it very useful to read my manuscript with a “child’s mind” – in other words, trying to read it as if I’ve never seen it before.

2. Taking copious notes. I open a Revision Notes file and start jotting ideas for changes I want to make.

3. Reworking character sketches. Now’s the time to deepen my characterizations, so I do lots of writing about the characters inside and outside of the events of the novel.

4. Doing additional research. If there are still factual questions in my mind, or if I feel like I need more background on an element in the novel, I do more research. For this novel, my research included watching the four-plus hour movie “Cleopatra.”

5. Creating a new timeline. This is super important. I try to find ways to tighten up my timeline for tension.

6. Making notes on the manuscript. In addition to jotting ideas in my revision file, I use Track Changes to make comments on the actual manuscript. I’m not rewriting yet, just inserting comments like, “Would she be angry here?” or “Move this scene to Chapter 5.” Kind of like a road map that I can refer to as I revise.

Now that I’m ready, it’s time to be fearless. This revision isn’t going to be about making little tweaks to the plot or characters. It’s going to be a paradigm shift based on the “aha”s I’ve had all month as I’ve re-read and thought about my story. Basically, I’ve realized that my current draft is actually the backstory of the novel I really need to write. So it’s time to rip it all apart and start over.

I’ve come to believe that unless I do a revision like this, where I truly go back to the drawing board in some way, I’m not pushing myself to write the best novel I can. It’s so easy to gloss over things that aren’t completely working and think that agents and editors won’t notice the glitches, but they do. They always do. So I’m going to put on my Warrior Woman outfit, gird my loins, and leap into the fray.

Wish me luck.

 

In defense of writing slowly

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I’ll admit it: I’m a slow writer. It’s taken me nearly four months to write the first 30,000 words of my current WIP – not very impressive, when you consider that people who do NaNoWriMo zip through an entire 50,000 word novel in just the month of November. I wish I were a faster writer, but that’s just not the way I work. I truly understand the value of accumulating word count quickly as a way to bypass the internal critic, the infernal inner editor, and I’d definitely love to shake mine. But I believe that there’s value in writing slowly, as well.

For one thing, writing at a slower pace allows me to plan and to consider alternatives. When I try to write at a breakneck pace, I end up taking a lot of narrative detours because I’m forced to set down the first thing that pops into my head – and unfortunately, most of those detours lead to dead ends. I like to pause at the end of a scene and ponder where the story might go next. And because I’m not in a hurry to latch onto the first idea that comes to me, I can sift through a number of options and decide what will really fit the story best before moving forward.

For another, I can pay close attention to language. Fast writing, for me, often leads to falling back on tired images and cliches. I enjoy taking the time to stare into space or consult a thesaurus so I can choose exactly the write word or come up with a simile I’ve never used before. I know, many writers do this kind of detailed work in revision, but I say that there’s nothing wrong with getting it right the first time, in the first draft.

But probably the most important reason that I choose to write more slowly than many is that I hate always feeling like I’m running a race. I want to savor the draft I’m in right now, not rush to finish it so I can get on to the next draft and the next and the next. I understand the value of deadlines, and when I have to produce a lot of work quickly, I do it. But right now, since I have no one hounding me to finish my novel, I prefer to take my time.

The only rule about writing is that there’s no one way to do it. What works for me might be impossible for you, and vice versa. If you produce your best writing at top speed, go for it. But don’t expect me to keep up.

How fast – or slow – do you like to write? Why does that speed work best for you?

First person or third person? That is the question

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Now that I’ve returned from my trip to the Oregon Coast…

Sea Rocks

 

And the Redwoods…

Helen Tree Dance

…I’m back to work on my new novel.

I’ve run into a snag, though: I can’t decide whether to write it in first or third person. I’ve now written three YA novels in first person present tense, and I’m wondering whether it’s time for a change. I’ve tried the opening scene in both first and third person, and there are things I like – and don’t like – about each of them.

Things I Love about First Person:

It fits me like a comfortable old shoe. I connect immediately to my main character, and I enjoy being right in her head, experiencing the story along with her. And scenes between two females are easy to write, because I can just use “I” for my main character and “she” for the other character in the scene.

Things that are Challenging about First Person:

It can get a little claustrophobic spending all my time in my main character’s head. Not only am I limited to writing about the parts of the story that she experiences, I can only write with her vocabulary, from her point of view. Sometimes, for example, I’ll think of a great way to describe a setting, but then I’ll think, “No, my character would never see it that way.”

Things I Like about Third Person:

Notice that I used “like” instead of “love.” I seldom write in third person, but in experimenting with it this week, I can see that it does have its benefits. It allows me to be more of a narrator, using a wider language palette and describing things in my own way. Third person also makes it easier to dole out essential information. For example, if I want my readers to know that Emmy is my main character Desiree’s best friend, I can just say, “her best friend, Emmy.” If I’m writing in first person, I have to be a little sneakier about stuff like that.

Things that I Hate about Third Person:

I’m fine with reading novels written in third person, but I feel awkward writing them. I feel distant and disconnected from my characters, and I find my sensibility drifting into adult territory, rather than sticking with a teen point of view. Also, it really sucks writing a scene in third person between two or more people of the same sex. Because there’s no “I,” and just calling everyone “he” or “she” can get confusing, you have to keep writing characters’ names.

So my dilemma here is whether to go with what’s comfortable and has worked for me in the past or to challenge myself to learn a new skill. Who knows? If I give it a chance, maybe I’ll come to love writing in third person.

Which do you prefer as a reader, first person or third person? How about as a writer? Have you ever had trouble deciding which  POV to use? How did you resolve your dilemma?

Odds and Ends

Monday, January 7th, 2013

It’s a new year, so it feels like time to take care of a few odds and ends. First, I’m getting excited about my appearance at the Olympia Timberland Library this Friday at 6:30 p.m., along with YA authors Megan Bostic (NEVER EIGHTEEN), Jennifer Shaw Wolf (BREAKING BEAUTIFUL), and Kimberly Derting (THE BODY FINDER series).

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The title of our program is “Writers on Writing,” so it promises to be informative as well as entertaining. Our books will be available for purchase and signing after the talk, so please come  on out if you’re in the area. We’d love to see you!

Second, I’m anxiously awaiting feedback from beta readers on the latest draft of my WIP. I’ve gotten one response already, and she loved it! A quote from her email:

OMG!!!!!!! 

HELEN! YES, I’M SCREAMING OVER HERE! I was up all night with your revision because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. It’s really perfect. I loved every part of it. And the tension is so thick throughout, it kept me turning pages. (or scrolling) I would absolutely pay to read this – and I will when it gets published – I’m going to have a copy of the hardcover on my shelf. This has to be published. 
Pretty strong praise, but I’m trying not to let it go to my head. I’ll wait and see what my other two readers have to say, then do another revision addressing their comments and any weak spots I find when I read the draft. Then, and only then, it goes off to my agent.
Lastly, there’s a lot of talk in the air about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t tend to make them, since my life is rife with rules and structure, anyway. But this year, I want to remind myself to keep a sense of play alive in my work. What’s the point of writing if I don’t enjoy it?
Any odds and ends you’d like to get off your chest? I’m all ears!