Tag Archives: am writing

Changing Character Names

2 Sep

Announcements:

The Examiner posted their 3-minute review of Take Me Tomorrow, stating, “‘Take Me Tomorrow’ is a fast-paced, character-driven thriller that drops the reader into the middle of a simmering American revolution guided by a well-developed but unknowing protagonist who’s as unpredictable and complex as the plot.” But you can read more about how the “rebel heart beats strong” by clicking here for the full review (or here for the novel on Amazon.)

I would also like to thank Deby Fredericks for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the One Lovely Blog Award. I filled out my seven facts on my Facebook page (which includes a pretty crazy story about Elvis Presley) but here are my three nominees: Fiction Favorites, Joyce H. Ackley, and A Writer’s Life for Me.

Changing Character Names:

Now, I’ve talked about this briefly before in my post, Naming Your Characters, and I think it’s important to check that out if you’re struggling to pick out names. I explain how to consider history, time, culture, and websites to help you find appropriate, memorable, and symbolic names for your characters. But today, I’m going to go beyond that and assume you now have names. Even if you get a list of symbolic names that fit the characters’ needs, there is still some work that has to be considered. Most of the questions below are ones I have to ask myself, and most of the time, I have at least one of these problems, and – yes – I rename characters when that happens (unless there is a purpose, which I will get into below.) But it’s important to follow step one before continuing.

Create two lists with ALL of your characters names

All includes minor. It even includes that random girl at the coffee shop your protagonist called by name because he read her nametag. It includes that barista, even if you never see her again (or she dies the second she appears.) Why? We’ll get to that in a second. First, you need to make the two lists. One list needs to be an alphabetized list. When characters begin with the same letter, keep them in the same line. When I use Minutes Before Sunset, a small section looks like this:

  • James, Jessica, Jonathon, Jada
  • Luthicer, Linda, Lola
  • Mindy, Mitchel,
  • Noah
  • Pierce

The second list organizes your characters by importance. (It can get tricky, and this one isn’t exactly necessary, but it does help when you’re trying to rotate, cut, or change names and you know you have to sacrifice someone else’s.) Again, if I were using Minutes Before Sunset, that small section above would be very different.

  • Jessica
  • Pierce, Jonathon
  • Luthicer, James
  • Mindy, Noah
  • Linda, Lola, Jada
  • Mitchel

This might help later on if I wanted to cut an “M” name, and I saw Mitchel at the bottom. (He’s actually a student we only see once in Seconds Before Sunrise.)

Original picture by name berry.com

Original picture by name berry.com

But now that you have the lists, here are some questions to consider:

  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in sound?
  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in the beginning or ending?
  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in syllables?
  • If they are similar, is there a purpose behind it?
  • Have you used these names before?

Now, unless there is a reason – like two brothers having similar names because they’re named after the same person – then, these issues are…well…issues, especially if 13 or your 20 characters start with the same letter. But there is no reason to panic. (Even if you are attached to the names you picked out, it’s okay. I promise.) I know I have had almost all of these problems, and when I faced them, my cast of characters became easier to decipher and understand. In fact – here’s a fun fact – I write almost all of my novels with the exact same character names: Magatha, Laurel, Tyler, Anthony, “D” names for the male protagonist, and “S” names for the female protagonist are just a few of my habits. This almost always happens, despite the fact that the characters aren’t similar to previous characters at all. So I write my novels without worrying about it, but I force myself to go back and change everything later. Why does this happen? I have no clue. I think it’s just how my brain works. But I know that I can’t have the same names in every book (even though the name Noah appears in both The Timely Death Trilogy and Take Me Tomorrow) and I know I can’t have too many similar sounding names. For instance, in the original version of Minutes Before Sunset, the Stone brothers were named Brent and Brenthan. (Yes. That seriously slipped my mind.) However, in the published version, the Stone brothers were renamed Jonathon and Brenthan. I kept similar endings to retain the similarities I wanted for the brothers, but I changed enough so that they were no longer confusing. Do I still accidentally type Brent every now and then? Yes. It’s embarrassing when an editor finds it. But I change it and move on, and I fall in love with their new names, slowly realizing how confusing their similar names once were.

But – speaking of similar names – you might have noticed that there was a new name on the list I used from The Timely Death Trilogy. Jada hasn’t been seen yet. She will be introduced in Death Before Daylight. For those of you who are wondering, I hit the 40,000 word mark yesterday, so I’m about halfway through, and I have updated the progress bar on the right side of my website.

I’m looking forward to giving you more updates, but I’m also looking forward to seeing your writing tips! Share your experiences with changing names once you chose them below, and we’ll help others who are struggling to find that perfect fit.

~SAT

Various Stages of Writer’s Block

12 Aug

Announcements: 

The latest review of Take Me Tomorrow is in! Trials of a wanna-be-publisher writer states, “Take Me Tomorrow asks a lot of questions around thorny issues in today’s society without becoming preachy in its message…As I have come to expect from Shannon, this book is well-crafted, engaging and very well-written (pretty much a given for this author). While the genre may be classed as ‘Young Adult’, don’t let that fool you; Take Me Tomorrow is an intelligent and thought-provoking piece of writing and one I highly recommend you check out.” And I highly recommend you read her entire review by clicking here

Various Stages of Writer’s Block

Oh, the dreaded writer’s block. The horror of the static pen. The silence of untapped keyboards. The banging of your forehead against the desk.

We’ve all been there – some of us more than others – and that’s why we can all relate to it (and hopefully laugh at it). So I wanted to share the various stages of writer’s insanity.

Stage One: Staring (a.k.a. denial)

Oh, no. Oh, no. This is not happening. This cannot be happening. I have a deadline. An actual deadline! (Okay. So I set the deadline myself, but still!) I do not have time for this. I NEED to be able to write.

Computer Guy Meme

Computer Guy Meme

Stage Two: Pacing (a.k.a. panic)

Why is this happening?! ::breathes heavily for five minutes:: Okay. I got this. I will get through this. I just need to walk away for a little bit. Okay. Never mind. I need a drink. Drinking is good. Ernest Hemingway used to drink. “Drink write, edit subor?” Why can’t I write drunk? I can’t even spell! Oh, god. I’ll never be good at this.

Photo by Reddit

Photo by Reddit

Stage Three: Running away (a.k.a. more panic)

I just need to relax. How do I relax again? Reading! I love reading. I can tackle the TBR pile in no time. ::sits down with book:: Who is this author? Why do they write so…so perfectly? Why can’t I write like this? I’ll never write something this lovely. ::throws book across room:: I can’t read right now. Who am I kidding? I need to step away from the books. I know! I’ll go for a walk, and I’ll look at the stars. The stars are nice. ::goes outside:: It’s cloudy. Great. Of course, it’s cloudy.

Photo from addfunny.com

Photo from addfunny.com

Stage Four: Return (a.k.a. facing the problem; then, letting it go)

All right. ::sits down at computer:: What the hell is wrong with this manuscript? What is wrong with me? (Two hours pass, nothing changes.) ::finally puts computer away for the night:: I just need a break, a nice dinner, a good night’s sleep.

Stage Five: Acceptance (a.k.a. overcoming it!)

::wakes up in the morning after the worst day ever:: I feel rested. Why is my protagonist sitting in my computer chair? ::stands up and crosses the room. Protagonist types with one hand and hands you a coffee with the other as you stare over their shoulder:: “Oh! That’s what I did wrong.” I forced everything, but now it’s resolved. Writer’s block, you silly thing.

Photo from memorise.org

Photo from memorise.org

Time to sit down and write again.

~SAT

My 11-year-old self was a better writer

5 Aug

Announcements:

Tamara Morning posted the latest review of Seconds Before Sunrise, book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy, and you can read the full review by clicking here, but here is a small excerpt, “Ms Thompson has done a superb job of bringing both of her worlds to life, both the magical, and the mundane. Seconds Before Sunrise is an engaging read sure to appeal to fans of both fantasy and young adult, with a twist that makes it different from other novels in these genres.”

My 11-year-old self was a better writer

I have a confession to make. I am struggling. A lot. So much so that I was tempted to go to a thesaurus to find a synonym for “a lot.” (Okay. So not that bad. But I’m still struggling with my writing.)

You see, I’m in-between wanting to rewrite November Snow and getting my content edits for Death Before Daylight complete. From a publishing standpoint, book 3 of The Timely Death Trilogy should come first, but my little writing heart wants to ignore Death Before Daylight for two main reasons:

  1. In the first few chapters, a really controversial scene happened. That’s right. Happened. As in, not anymore. The original version is very different from the version coming out in the future, and I’m happy with this severe change. Even though I did cut out this controversial scene, there is a new scene, and I like the new one a lot more in the sense that it is more honest to the characters and the storyline. That being said, I feel as if I have killed off a character by cutting that original scene out, and I haven’t quite mourned it yet, so it’s hard to move forward at this moment in time. (But I promise I will.)
  2. November Snow is still my favorite novel of mine. There. I said it. I kind of do have a favorite child. Does that make me a bad parent? Maybe. That’s probably why I don’t have children. (Just kidding.) But in all seriousness, I have an urge to write in November Snow right now, even though my publication goal is to release that AFTER Death Before Daylight.

So where am I going with this?

Well, here’s the uglier confession: When I picked up November Snow, it terrified me. Yes. Terrified. I had to force myself to put it down, and it has been sitting on my desk all week. I have barely touched it until I picked up last night, which is probably why I’m writing this.

Why did it terrify me?

The story is controversial. It’s dark. It’s violent. And it’s honest. It forces me to face the facts. I’ve lost a part of myself in my writing. I used to write darker stories, and I want to continue to write them, but I’m afraid to now. There is no easier way of putting it. I have hesitations. I keep worrying about what my readers will think of me, what my family and friends will say. Even though I’ve always thought I have surpassed this, I think I’ve been lying to myself a lot. I keep coming back to that time in high school when classmates and teachers thought I was disturbed after they read November Snow. I keep reflecting on that judgment, but – even worse – I’ve placed that judgment on myself.

So I stopped writing my darker stories or I started censoring the more “twisted” moments. When did this start? I have no idea. I honestly don’t. I know it didn’t happen after November Snow, because I wrote that scene in Death Before Daylight that was very controversial, and I wrote a few more things I wish I could reference but I cannot yet (simply because they have not even been mentioned on this blog before, let alone published.)

But I did learn one thing the other day. I have two different types of censoring:

  1. Necessary – it needs to happen. A scene isn’t good for the story. It doesn’t mean anything. The characters never put it there in the first place. I did, which also means there isn’t a reason for it. (This is what happened in Death Before Daylight, so please don’t think that I’m censoring book 3 in The Timely Death Trilogy at all.)
  2. Unnecessary – this is my big problem that I’m currently going through. This is when I’m holding back the truth in November Snow because of various reasons. This is when my 11-year-old self – the girl who started writing this story – is sitting somewhere inside of me and screaming at me (or laughing at me, either one) because she knows I’ll get over it before I even know I’ll get over it.
I was twelve here, but close enough. :]

I was twelve here, but close enough. :]

I feel slightly insane right now, arguing back and forth with my past self. But it’s the truth. She may not have been grammatically correct. (Okay. So she desperately needed an editor.) Her prose may have been so poorly written that it makes me roll my eyes. But she was fearless. She was capable, and passionate, and raw, and she could care less what a reader or a classmate thought as long as she was true to the story. But me?

I am terrified.

I don’t want my female protagonist to be weak. I don’t want readers to think I’m white-washing my characters. I don’t want a reviewer to think my characters are sexist or prejudice or disrespectful or gratuitously violent. I don’t want the message to be misconstrued. But – most of all – I realized that I was so worried about these topics because I was afraid that a reader would reflect their thoughts of my novels onto what they think of me. I returned to what happened with November Snow: I don’t want the reader to judge the book like they are judging me. But I shouldn’t be worried about me when it’s truly about the story.

I find myself fighting these parts in my stories because of how someone might take me as an author when I should be more focused on just being true to the story. It’s never been about me. It’s about the story. If my female character is weak, well, then, she’s weak in the reader’s eyes (and she might, in fact, be weak.) But you know what? She’s a human to me. She’s real to me. And real people can be weak. Just like I have been recently.

It takes a lot to admit how weak we can be in order to become stronger, so I hope this helps me face the facts and begin to grow with my eleven-year-old self again, but I ultimately hope it helps writers who’ve struggled or might be struggling now. I hope every writer who struggles picks up their pens when they know they’ve dropped it somewhere along the way.

~SAT

Managing Multiple Projects at Once

3 Aug

Announcements:

I’ve updated my publications picture! You can see it around my website, including my pages: About Me and Novels.

update

Managing Multiple Projects at Once

Okay. So here’s the truth. I’m not an expert on this topic. Personally, I’m struggling with this right now. While I’ve never found writing numerous books at the same time difficult, I do find marketing one book while writing another difficult, especially when they are in different worlds entirely. Maybe it’s the way my brain wires cross. It just doesn’t work. It hurts my cranium. My mushy muscle master feels…well, mushy. So here are my tips that I’ve come up with for others who’ve struggled like I have.

1. Set aside a time for each project:

Maybe you spend the morning writing and the evening marketing. Separating the two can help keep your mindset in check, and eventually, you mind will adjust to expecting this schedule, so it will be easier to focus on what you’ve scheduled to focus on. I do this with work. When I wake up, it’s email time. When I eat lunch, it’s marketing time. When I finish dinner, it’s writing time. I even have my breaks scheduled, and those breaks help my mind flip over to my next task. Hardcore? Maybe. I’m on my schedule right now. I blog right after dinner and right before I focus on writing books. But it works for me, and it’s important to find what works for you.

2. If you don’t want to dance, get off the dance floor

What does dancing have to do with writing? A lot. Because this is a metaphor. If you just can’t get in the mindset of Project A because you’re still focused on Project B, that’s okay. Work on Project B, try not to worry about Project A, and move forward productively. If you continue to beat yourself up, you’re not going to get anywhere with anything. In this metaphoric world, you’re just going to stand in the middle of the dance floor, contemplating whether you want to do the jive or the twerk without realizing you’re at a disco. But who cares? You can dance however you want to.

3. Step Away, Clear Your Head, and Take Care of Yourself

I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I do because this is the biggest problem I – personally – have. I’m obsessive in nature in an unhealthy way. Seriously. I can admit this about myself. When I have a deadline I’m worried about, I forget to eat, and when I do eat, I don’t eat well. I drink too much coffee, and the tangles in my hair become so bad that Medusa’s snakes would be terrified of me. But I’m learning, and I’m getting better at closing my laptop, Weebo, before my vision gets blurry. I go to the gym, I buy a goddamn sandwich, I see friends, I laugh, and I don’t think about my books. I might have to force my book thoughts away, but it’s worth it because I am refreshed when I finally sit back down and get to work.

Speaking of which, I’m about to sit down to work on Death Before Daylight. We’re about 30,000 words into the content edits, and I’m hoping to have the manuscript out late this year or by early next year. But I hope you enjoyed these tips. If you have any tips for managing multiple projects at once, feel free to share them below! I could always use more help, and I’m sure all of us writers would appreciate the ideas.

~SAT

Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

10 Jul

Fantasy is More Fun is giving away tons of prizes to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Check out the raffle by clicking here, be sure to join, and you might win ten novels! Minutes Before Sunset is included!

Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

It’s hard to be yourself in an art industry – as strange as that sounds.

Correction: It’s hard for me to be %100 myself 24/7 in the publishing industry. Perhaps this a fact of life – not just something in the publishing industry – but I have found myself censoring myself about my lifestyle because I’m afraid that I will lose readers if they don’t agree with me. (Personally, I don’t see why we have to agree about everything, but this still happens.) This happens in and outside the publishing world, but I wanted to share the topics I struggle with as an author in order to help other authors talk about their personal troubles. I also hope to take my first step at being %100 honest without fear of reader rejection.

So here is a list of things I have been afraid to mention before:

Books I Dislike and Like:

This isn’t about if they are good or not. I am a firm believer in the fact that books can both be good and be disliked. My personal example of this is Divergent. I just could not get into it. I could not wrap my mind around a society the forces you to be only ONE thing, and the color scheme seemed too simple for such a complex topic. I also felt like it had a lot of religious undertones that made me very uncomfortable. That being said, I still think Veronica Roth is a fantastic writer. I can see a variety of reasons to love it. I can appreciate her prose. On the opposite spectrum, I enjoyed Twilight. There. I said it. Granted, I was 14 when I read it, so it was also marketed to girls my age at the time. I actually remember buying Twilight after a friend told me about it and being reluctant only to go back the very next day to buy the second book that had just released. It wasn’t until much later that I considered the themes in it – when others saw it as abusive, I saw it as just a story – just entertainment. Either way, it still makes me really sad when readers hate on other readers, so that’s why I think I censor myself about my personal book tastes. I don’t want a fan to think I’m attacking their favorite book, because I understand how personal a book can mean to a reader, how much joy and heartbreak can come when a reader loses themselves in a story and how destructive it can feel when others try to tear it to pieces.

I smoke hookah and I drink:

I’m 23, so both of these acts are legal for me, but I try not to mention this about myself because my readers are primarily young adults, and I don’t want to encourage them to do either of the things. As a contradiction, my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, deals with a lot of themes about drugs in society, including the youth. The sad fact is that many young adults find themselves involved with drugs. This a reality. But my biggest fear is someone telling me their kid blamed me for trying hookah or trying a drink. Here’s another ugly truth: my mother died from a drug overdose. They were legal painkillers prescribed to her. So I know the deadly consequences that can derive from drug use, legal or not. Perhaps – because of my various experiences – I am sensitive to how people perceive me in regards to the drugs in my upcoming novel. Who knows? When I’m asked in interviews “Where do you write?” I find myself struggling to answer honestly, “In a local hookah house.” Because I don’t want other kids to smoke because I smoke occasionally. I know it’s bad for you. I understand this. I am only afraid readers will somehow think I am saying it’s good for you when I’m not.

From Post Advertising

From Post Advertising

Depression associated with publishing:

It happens. I have days where I struggle – just like any person in any industry – but there seems to be a strange stigma associated with artists. If we complain, we aren’t grateful. If we complain, we are selfish because there are so many writers who wish they were published. But can’t we be honest? Can’t we say it’s hard? Can’t we feel sad sometimes, too?

Characters I’ve based off of people:

I don’t directly and purposely try to base my characters off of people in my life, but – as time passes – I can see strong correlations. Still, I am terrified of admitting to my relationships (friends or not) with these people because many of these people are no longer in my life. It feels rude. It feels selfish. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I won’t. But sometimes – when I realize this – I miss them. I miss the characters that were once my closest friends. And I have struggled to even make friends. Since I moved around a lot as a child, friends didn’t last very long. We always moved. But losing friends when I still lived in the same area was an extremely difficult part of my teenage years. I didn’t have to deal with it until I was 15 – and it was hard. Really hard. I couldn’t comprehend how someone I confided in could turn their back on me (or how I managed to turn my back on others.) So when those characters clear up, it can be confusing and unreal and strange, so it’s much easier to deny the possibility that my characters might – in fact – be them.

Certain scenes:

When I was younger, it was easier to be true to the story. I didn’t care what readers thought of a controversial scene, but now I find myself changing them or cutting them out completely – mainly because I or people I have met have gone through many of these trials and I don’t want to stigmatize the victims. I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to trigger something.

My personal life:

So you know I have a cat. You know I live in Kansas. You know that I work for AEC Stellar as an author and an employee. You know I lost my mother at a young age and my college roommate. But you don’t know how much I mentally struggle to believe that I created a relatable female character because I struggle to relate to females in general (which I think stems from the fact that I was mainly raised by my father and brother, therefore feeling more comfortable around males.) I’m also more comfortable writing as a male, and when readers ask me about it, I get really uncomfortable about it, because I don’t even know why. To clarify, I’m not uncomfortable with the fact that I enjoy writing as a boy; I get uncomfortable when someone tries to make sense of it, like there has to be a reason for it. I – on the other hand – just want to accept it for what it is. The only other topic I would like to clarify on is that I am not just a “cat person.” I grew up with dogs, and I love and miss my husky, Shadow. (So much so that Argos in Take Me Tomorrow is based off of him.) He was in my life for 15 years. If I had a yard and the proper time and money for a puppy, I would get one. But I don’t. So I have my cat, Bogart, and I love him very much. But I love cats and dogs and pretty much every animal on the planet.

There are ugly parts of everyone’s life and art, but – even though it is common – it is hard to confess to those darker moments. That being said, confessing to those thoughts can help others who struggle with truths they avoid. I like to believe that my “ugly” parts aren’t ugly at all. I am human. That’s what makes us artists.

Feel free to share those things you avoid mentioning below! It’s quite a freeing moment, and I’m glad to share my struggles here, especially if it helps other artists come out with their struggles!

~SAT

Website Wonders

28 Jun

It’s that time again! Today is Website Wonders, and my next post will be June’s Ketchup. But I’m switching it up a little bit. Today, I’ll be sharing all of the websites I’ve come across this month that I think you’ll enjoy – but I’m also sharing a small excerpt of Take Me Tomorrow. Don’t forget to email me if you want to review it! I’m at shannonathompson@aol.com, and I should be receiving the review copies soon. I am also open to interviews! (Or just talking.) So talk to you soon!

~SAT

Below, you’ll find all of June’s Website Wonders categorized into these categories: For Writers, Publishing News, For Readers, Inspiration, and Humor. The excerpt is at the bottom, but I share all of these on my Author Facebook page throughout the month, so be sure to join me there if you haven’t already. :D

For Writers:

200 Words Instead of “Said” – I am a huge fan of the word “said” but many writers like to use a variety of words. A few readers left fantastic tips on my Author Facebook Page, including Amber Skye Forbes saying to use words like these like gems. I agree with her, but this article is great if you’re looking for those little gems to use.

Famous Writer’s Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity: Too bad my sleep habits aren’t anything like these.

21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors: “Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more.”

Publishing News:

Amazon Is Now Re-Stocking Some Hachette Titles: This dispute is on-going.

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For Readers:

What Your Favorite High School Book Says About You: I picked “1984” since “The Stranger” wasn’t on the list.

George RR Martin’s editor hints at eighth Game of Thrones book: An eighth book?!

Against YA: I responded to this horrible article this month here –> “Everything I Learned From Against YA and More”

14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time it Takes to Eat Lunch: This article is a brilliant piece to read during lunch. I felt so lucky to find this. It’s a great list!

Cassandra Clare released a snippet from The Dark Artifices: Can’t wait!

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A quote from Seconds Before Sunrise that Snydle quotes made!

Inspiration:

Spooky, Wild Scenes Straight Out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: beautiful photos

Powerful Portraits of Brave People Revealing Their Insecurities: Other than the fact that this project is powerful and amazing and so many other words, I thought this would be a great exercise for writers to run through with their characters. What are there insecurities? Where would they write them down? How would they display themselves?

Under This Tree In Cuba, There’s A Secret World. Enter At Your Own Risk: Goes to show how much one tree can hide.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Great for historical writers!

The Top 10 TED Talks Every Woman Should See: I would like to add that these aren’t just for women. I think they’re great for everyone.

Humor:

The 20 Biggest Plot Holes In World History: Truth is stranger than fiction.

Which Member of the Justice League Are You?: I’m Batman!

Excerpt:

A little information first: the photo you see is from the Take Me Tomorrow Pinterest board. The boy is very close to Miles Beckett, a friend of Sophia’s. The scene you’re about to read is actually a part of a flashback of the first time Sophia met Miles when they were seven years old.

10486302_700440563336461_7589438558921574845_n“We’re going to be best friends,” Lily squealed, seeming younger than me even though I was told we were the same age. I couldn’t say anything to that either.

“You’ll really like it here,” Ms. Beckett said, giving a slight push to a young boy standing next to her. He had stumbled forward, but his gaze never left the ground. His curls were matted with gel, and his shirt had a collar. He looked like a child dressed in an old man’s suit.

Miles managed to tell me his name, while Lily exclaimed that he was her brother. Twins. I had never met twins before.

“I’m Sophia,” I said, glancing up at my father for social direction.

“You’ll like it here, kiddo,” he repeated Ms. Beckett’s words, playing with the glasses in his pocket. I nodded mechanically, knowing that his new job would keep him out of the State most of the time. I was stuck here, and everything was about to change.

Hope you enjoy the websites!

~SAT

 

Writing Tips: Introducing Your Characters

20 Jun

Special thanks to The Leisure Zone for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset: “A great read. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and it does take your imagination for a ride…This is a great leading book. I cannot wait to read the following books.” Click here to read the full review or click here to check out Minutes Before Sunset on Amazon, only $3.89.

Also, you might have noticed that my progress bar is updated on the right side of my website! I try to update it every two weeks, but I am really looking forward to the release of Take Me Tomorrow and Death Before Daylight.

People are obsessed with firsts: a baby’s first smile, winning first place in a race, your first love, getting arrested for the first time. (Okay. So maybe not that last one.) But we do like firsts, and I think it brings up a topic writers don’t normally talk about or even consider.

What are your characters’ firsts?

No. I’m not talking about their first steps when they were a baby. I’m talking about the first time they appear in the story, the first time they talked, the first time they laughed, the first time they really opened up and showed some depth to their created soul.

So I’m going to share some of my characters’ firsts as examples while I explain how important their first line can be. This might seem like a stretch for many but consider the popular phrase, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” But I really like the quote below, because I believe it applies to how your readers can perceive your characters’ first impressions as well:

quote-a-stunning-first-impression-was-not-the-same-thing-as-love-at-first-sight-but-surely-it-was-an-lois-mcmaster-bujold-214751

Characters are just like people except that we can decide exactly what that first impression will be. Maybe their first impression will be great and readers will consider loving them. Maybe everyone will hate them. You can do both, and that’s the beauty of it. You can even get really complicated and strive to have the reader love them while the characters hate them. But enough of my rambling. Below I’ll explain some first impression parts to consider with examples from Minutes Before Sunset.

First appearance:

This is important for the obvious, main reason: a first impression is largely based on how someone appears, how they act, how they think or talk. This “first appearance” can be an appearance a reader sees first or an appearance the other characters see first. Consider both of those moments carefully because you can set up how a reader might judge a character for a long time. For me – as a reader – I have become very confused when a character is introduced in a very violent or angry way when they suddenly become very nice seconds later. It’s like whiplash. Scenes like that make more sense to me when I already know the character. (I’m not saying it cannot be done. What I am saying is to approach first appearances with care.) Below are examples of characters appearing to the reader first.

In Minutes Before Sunset, Camille appears in the very first chapter. Although Eric is six, she is already his guard (and she is only nine!) We see her as soon as Eric’s father leaves him alone – and, unlike Eric’s father – Camille asks Eric is if he alright. This sets up their relationship as a caring one, but it also shows the responsibility Camille has to take care of the male protagonist. Fun fact: we don’t see Camille’s human appearance until page 21. I could go on and on about how their different identities appear at separated times, but she appeared as a guard first because that part of her life is more important to the story, to Eric, and to her.

First spoken line:

What a character says can define them just as much as what a character does. I find first lines to be good indicators on what we can expect from a character: are they funny? Angry? Bitter? Responsible? Yes, of course their personalities develop far beyond their first lines, but first lines normally happen at the same time as first appearances, which are usually important scenes, so first lines – by default – reveal extra insight, like if a character speaks with an accent or not. Moments like these then become defining factors. But I would say that you don’t have to take this literally. The first line doesn’t necessarily mean the exact first line. It can mean the first conversation they have.

For this example, I wanted to share a few first spoken lines:

Since I explained the first scene in Minutes Before Sunset, let’s look at Camille’s first line: “Eric.” Yep. That’s her first word. In contrast, Eric – as Shoman – first appears in chapter two, and his first line as a shade is “Camille.” One another’s names are the first things they say because it focuses on the depth of their relationship while insinuating how close they are on a regular basis. But if we wanted to look at Eric’s VERY first line – again, this line is spoken when he is six years old in chapter one – he simply says, “I’m fine.” It’s important to note that Eric is lying here, and lying later becomes a defining factor of Eric’s personality. On a lighter note, when we see Crystal – a side character – for the first time, she says, “Don’t answer that.” to Jessica after Robb begins flirting with her. Crystal’s first line not only shows how she can take the initiative, but it also shows her comfort with interrupting Robb, insinuating that their friends (or at least that they know one another.)

First time they interact with another character:

This can get tricky, because stories have dozens of characters and each one of them is going to interact for the first time eventually and – most of the time – it’s only the “first time” for the reader. Most of the time, characters have a past, so they aren’t speaking for the first time, but that’s also the point - the “first” conversation can show whether or not characters have a past as well as other things, such as a social ranking difference (sir, ma’am, etc.) and/or if their past is a good one. Are they friends? Are they enemies? Are they competitors? Do they talk or is this a rare instance? Considering these questions can help shape how one character approaches another one while also hinting to the reader about how they always interact – before and during the story.

In Minutes Before Sunset, we get to see two, very different types of first interactions. Since Jessica is new to Hayworth, the reader gets to be introduced to everyone just like Jessica does, but Eric isn’t new. Through his eyes, we see interactions that have history – a very dark history – and we see repercussions of that in his various interactions. For instance, let’s focus on the human identities in Minutes Before Sunset. Jessica first talks to Eric on page 36. They’ve been assigned as homeroom partners, and Jessica is trying to be amicable but Eric – obviously – does not have the same intentions. (Scene told from Eric’s perspective.)

“Hi,” she said, turning briefly toward me to smile. “I’m Jess.”

She laid out her hand for a handshake, and I pushed my chair against the wall. “I heard your name when Ms. Hinkel assigned you,” I said, opening the chemistry book left on my desk from the previous period. I was not interested in small talk.

Now – moving onto another scene to use as a comparison. Crystal – a girl who has gone to school with Eric since childhood – doesn’t speak to Eric until page 127, and the only reason they do speak is because Crystal is sitting in his seat. (If you haven’t read the books, spoiler alert: Crystal and Eric used to be friends until freshman year in high school until Abby – Eric’s previous girlfriend – died. Eric stopped speaking to everyone. Crystal and Robb take this very personally.) But here is the scene so you can see: (scene told from Jessica’s perspective)

“Hey.”

We both jumped, and our conversation halted as we turned around. In front of us, Eric stood inches away, and the teacher hovered behind him, crossing her arms.

“Er—Eric,” I managed, and Crystal stared.

“Hey, Jessica,” he said, turning his gaze to my friend. “Crystal.”

“Welborn.” She returned the acknowledgement with a cold tone. “Hey.”

His smirk faltered, and his lips thinned. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, swinging his hand over his shoulder to point at our teacher. “but I probably need my seat.”

Both of these “firsts” show Eric’s history as well as his emotional state, but the moments also reveal character traits of Jessica and Crystal. While Jessica wants to be nice at first, Eric isn’t interested, and the tension between Crystal and Eric is still present, despite the two years that have passed since Abby’s sudden death. However, this would be a good time to say that “first” interactions are just as important as how the characters continue to act and grow. Later in the story, all of these characters’ relationships shift dramatically.

So I hope you have a few places to start in regards to your characters’ firsts. You might even crack open a favorite book you’ve read just to see what those characters’ firsts were. They might surprise you. I know I had a few that shocked me.

Happy writing and reading!

~SAT

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