Giving Life to Characters
When you write young adult fiction, it’s important to create realistic characters. Truthfully, that’s important no matter what type of fiction you write or what age level you write for, but I think it’s more important in YA because teenagers can be tough. If an author’s characters aren’t realistic, or the plot isn’t, or the story’s too preachy, teens are not going to read the book. (I have a teen and an almost-teen; I know what I’m talking about here.)
Most of what I write is character-driven. My books have plots, of course; otherwise they wouldn’t be books. Or at least no publisher would have accepted them. But in my books the characters control the plot, rather than the other way around. Because of that, sometimes the characters seem to develop themselves.
I do start out with a basic idea of who the characters are and what their personalities are like. When I started writing my Reality Shift series, I knew that Shanna was shy and considered herself worthless, and that Jonah was strong and confident. Of course, it helped that Shanna’s based on me and Jonah was based on a good friend of mine, so I had the personalities pretty well set. But as I went on in the books, I started discovering things about them that I hadn’t expected. I’m not telling what those things were, because that would be spoilery, but it amazed me how the characters fleshed themselves out as I wrote.
For me, that’s the key to writing realistic characters. Even though I start out with some plan as to what the characters will be like, as I write, I don’t necessarily stick to that plan. I let the characters take over and tell me what they’re like. Sometimes their ideas are better than mine!
Since I’m not a teenager anymore, and my teen years weren’t fun and are long enough in the past that I barely remember them, I have to pay special attention as I write to making sure my characters are actually teenagers. Teenagers don’t always talk—or think—like adults, and when you’re an adult it’s hard to remember that. It’s vital to remember, though, because if you write a fourteen-year-old who sounds like an adult, teens might not want to read about that character. Unless, of course, sounding like an adult is part of the character’s personality.
After Connection, the first book in Reality Shift, came out last year, I got a review that said Jonah sounded too old. A couple of my daughter’s friends made the same comment. The thing is, Jonah’s supposed to sound too old. It’s an integral part of the character. He’s guided by a being of light, taught himself energy healing and yoga, and wants to teach others. He’s what one might call an “old soul,” so sounding like an adult fits. On the other hand, Shanna is a typical fourteen-year-old, so I’ve found myself rewriting quite a bit of her narrative and dialogue to make sure she sounds like one.
No matter what your plot is, and no matter whether your characters are human or something else entirely, character development is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of writing. It can be one of the hardest, but it’s also the most fun.
When Shanna’s father moves out, leaving Shanna alone with her mother, her home life goes from bad to worse. At least she has Jonah to remind her that she deserves a good life, even if she doesn’t always believe him.
Stressed about her parents’ separation and worried about what it will mean for her, Shanna is glad for the distraction of her friend Tammi’s request for information about guides. Although Shanna is still learning, she knows how to answer Tammi’s questions. The problem is, the entity Tammi is asking about isn’t really a guide. It’s a dead spirit who wants to take over Tammi’s life. And Shanna discovers that another entity, one with the power to destroy our universe, wants to use Tammi as well.
Guided by Jonah and Tethys, and helped by another being of light, Shanna must send the dead spirit to the afterlife before it’s too late—for Tammi and for the entire Universe.
I wrote my first story when I was five, and completed my first book-length manuscript when I was 12. Through junior high, high school, and college, I wrote about 19 more book-length stories, all longhand. Well, I didn’t have a computer back then… I put writing aside for several years after I married and had my daughters, but then got back into it about five years ago, and since then have completed the first drafts of 44 young adult manuscripts, 30 of which are part of a series, and another ten of which make up another series. My characters don’t like to leave me alone.
Until recently, all those manuscripts just gathered dust on a shelf in my study; I didn’t try to find a publisher for them. But now I’m working toward publication, and recently received my first acceptance from Kitty Horse Publishing, a new company launching in January 2010.
I’m a former special education teacher who still dabbles in teaching occasionally, and I’ve recently relocated from Maine to Massachusetts with my two daughters, ages 14 and 11, and a pair of cats.
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The tour will run from March 17-30