Before we get into the post, don’t forget that my next LGBTQ YA Fantasy book, A MILLION LITTLE SOULS is available for pre-order in ebook format. Check it out!
Every author who has published a book has characters they love to write and characters they hate to write. Not to say that they love the characters they love to write–sometimes hating a character (such as a really evil villain) makes them a joy to write. Conversely, not all characters an author hates to write are hated by them. Sometimes we love a character but they are agonizing to write.
Let me explain.
When I’m writing a book, the characters I love to write most are the ones that I can relate to on some deep emotional level, or the ones who are nothing like me at all. Writing characters who have similar life experiences, beliefs, or ideals as myself are fun to write because I can get inside of their heads. It makes the writing flow. Furthermore, a character who is nothing like me is fun to write because it’s fun to figure them out.
For example, writing a character like Oma from the JACOB MICHAELS IS… series is so much fun. She’s presented as a woman in her 70s, foul-mouthed (okay, I can be foul-mouthed at times), witty, feisty raised in the country, a widow, and highly protective. Plus, there’s something witch-y going on with her. Any scene with Oma got written at a speed that is almost unimaginable. I didn’t have to think…I just wrote.
Likewise, writing a character like Alex in BULLY was easy because I can relate to him. No. Not the sex stuff. For the most part, anyway. I could relate to him because he was unsure of himself, didn’t know how to flirt, loved books, he was kind of nerdy, loved music, loved his mother, and felt alone a lot of the time. He also tried to do the best he could with what he had to work with in life. Writing him was easy as well.
But if we were to talk about characters like Alex in JUST A DUMB SURFER DUDE (privileged, rich, white kid going to an elite high school who is prone to having a jealous streak), or Tom from THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING (a depressed, anxious, borderline suicidal guy who is recovering from childhood trauma), I didn’t have a clue how to write them. Luckily, Alex was not one of the MCs who was at the forefront of the SURFER DUDE trilogy, so he didn’t vex me quite as much. However, Tom was the only real MC in THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING, so he was daunting.
There were many times during NaNoWriMo 2018 where I wanted to yank out my hair and scream (maybe cry) while writing GRAVITY.
Characters who can be written effortlessly don’t really deserve to be discussed much. Writers reading this post don’t need help with writing those characters. But what does a writer do with a character who is giving them problems but is integral to the story? Do you change the character to suit your writing abilities…or do you dig deep and hope for a miracle?
In writing these characters, I’ve found that it’s neither of those things. A character that pops into your head can be fleshed out, but changing who they are at their core usually ruins the story you have in mind. Simply digging in your heels and being stubborn simply frustrates you further. I’ve found a better solution.
If you have a character you’re struggling to write because you can’t relate to them enough, or you aren’t interested in how different from yourself they are, there is a solution.
Find a common ground.
Find something about the characters that you relate to or can at least be empathetic about, and you might have your solution about how to write them with less difficulty.
With Alex, I realized that we shared our passion for how deep our love runs for the person with whom we’re in love. Additionally, I realized that he was very goal-oriented and, underneath everything, not really all that confident. That’s why he was jealous all of the time. I can relate to those things!
In regards to Tom, I realized that he felt all alone and was trying to figure out which step to take next. He cared deeply about the people in his life and he wanted to give more of himself, but he was afraid of what would happen if he opened himself up and things fell apart. He was locked in a cage of his own making. I could relate to that, too.
Once I dissected the characters a bit, found something about them that intrigued me and resonated as truly human, writing them wasn’t so hard. The only struggle I had in writing them after I figured them out was keeping them on brand. I didn’t want to venture away from who they were at their core. It’s far too easy for a writer to change things about a character as they write to make things easier. So, I had to focus on the things that made them easier to write while not shying away from the things that intimidated me about writing them.
Writing some of my characters has been truly agonizing at times. They usually end up being the best characters.
Believe it or not, Ian and Mike from A SURPLUS OF LIGHT were agonizing.
Those two guys vexed me for another reason, though. I was so in love with them–for different reasons each–that I didn’t want to mess them up. I simply adored those guys. Which is why I’ve said it’s very unlikely there will ever be a sequel to that book. I worked so hard to make them consistent, believable, yet unique. While that book didn’t take long at all to write–maybe a couple of months–I don’t know if I could do it again. I’d probably end up screwing one of them up. I’m pretty sure they’ve completely vacated my head and all that’s left of them is in that book.
Regardless, I love all of my characters for one reason or another. Some I adore from the beginning of the story to the end, and others I think I could have done better. However, figuring out how to relate to–or at least be empathetic towards–a character has always made writing easier.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,