Do you have to like your lead character?

I didn’t, and this was a big problem for me in developing my last novel. I got to know Melissa in the first book, and there was not much about her that was endearing. She was arrogant, rude to people and self-absorbed. She was a secondary character then and so I only got to know her through the eyes of other people, but it was clear that they were not impressed and so I wasn’t either.

Then she did something really stupid and life-threatening; not just to herself but to someone else as well. She ended up looking a bit pathetic really, and once the crisis was over, she was easy to dismiss and to focus instead on the more pleasant people in the story. Nobody felt sorry for her in relation to the humiliation she experienced.

She scored a passing reference in the second story, but was largely a withdrawn character, with her actions in book one still hanging heavily over her. It was probably a conscious decision of hers to remain distant, but her presence was not generally welcomed either.  Surprisingly, she did show concern for one of the characters who fell seriously ill, but still this was a passing reference in the story.

Not sure why, but I decided that the third book in the series needed to be about Melissa. There was a problem though.  From what I knew of her, she was obnoxious.  I meandered around in circles for a while, trying to break into the story, but I didn’t feel comfortable with her. I had to sit down and get to know her back story.

  • What sort of childhood did she have?
  • What was her current family situation?
  • What was she passionate about? (photography) 
  • What was she afraid of?
  • What innate beliefs did she have about herself?
  • How did she behave when she was by herself?

It was only as I got to know her as a person, and the drivers that were dictating the way her life had unraveled that I was able to develop the plot.  Mostly, romance novels are written in the third person, and changing point of view is frowned upon. Currently, the first chapter also shows the point of view of the antagonist as he also gets to know a woman from whom he has learned (in previous books) to maintain a respectful distance. Both he and I were skirting around her.  Melissa developed her voice by the second chapter though, and from then on the book was firmly lodged in the third person.

 

The novel is still in the review stage, and so I will probably address the point of view issues in the first chapter – not because I want to but because it can send publishers into a frenzy. The challenge is how to do so without losing the essence of that chapter.

 

I’m curious. How do other writers get to know their characters?  Do you always like them? What do you do when you don’t?

Book Three in the Trilogy

I’m writing the final chapters of the last of the Centralian Trilogy.  This book tells the story of Melissa Gilbert, who was first introduced in The Red Heart.

That may seem surprising because Melissa wasn’t the nicest of people – possibly readers would not have thought that her story warranted telling. She was rude and obnoxious and it was due to her behaviour and fabrications that she and Kathy Sullivan were put in a life-threatening situation when the aircraft Kathy was flying had to make a forced landing in the bush. Melissa had to make a humiliating admission and apology.

I started to wonder about Melissa and what drove her to act the way she did. As I was to learn though, there was more to her than most people realised. Living on Plenty River Station, Melissa and her father did not often get into Alice Springs and as most of her schooling had taking place in Sydney, she never got to know other young people of her own age. Consequently, she remained a bit of a local enigma. What others saw as a haughty reserve was a cover for her true feelings and emotions.

Getting to know her was initially a challenge but I have enjoyed writing the book anyway. A comment from a beta reader who has been assessing the first chapters is that there are significant differences in style between the first and third books and I like to think that it is indicative of a maturing of my craft.

My working title, Picture This – quite likely to change but it gives me a focus, and these photos that have been the background to the structure of my writing.

Can’t wait for the ending to be revealed!

On the downhill run

It has been slow progress but today I have started the last chapter of book 2.  The working title is ‘On My Wavelength’ with reference to the radio station that features in the book but this may change once I sit down and read the manuscript in its entirety. The problem is, when you take so long to write a book, you forget the finer detail of what you wrote in the beginning. I have resisted re-reading at this stage though as I know that I would get side-tracked with editing and re-writing and instead I want to focus on the final page.

Significant parts of my plotting for this novel have taken place in a local coffee shop. I tend to go for a lengthy walk on Sunday mornings and of course this takes in a coffee shop as well. I find that away from the distractions of home, I can get quite a bit done in the way of character analysis and plotting. I may write the first page or so as well, getting far enough into the chapter for the story to then take over. I find that handwriting helps the creativity as well.

coffee,-tea,-hot-drink

There will be a third book in this series, but at this stage I only know who the central characters will be. I have no idea as yet on the direction of their particular journey or what will happen along the way.

This year’s conference of the Romance Writers’ of Australia is taking place in just under a month and as I intend pitching this novel to a couple of publishers, I need to have it finished and polished by then. It’s a good incentive. Time for another coffee to keep me going.

 

Coming together of like minds

This weekend, I am attending my first conference for the Romance Writers of Australia.  It’s an action-packed program with something for everyone. I’m looking forward to the networking and to all that I will learn – not just about the craft of writing but about the industry.

I am pitchinChampagne-Glassesg to four new publishers, and have spent today collating thoughts and information.  I’ve also gone back to the manuscript for The Red Heart to give it another read through.  It is amazing that even after I have read it numerous times, and spell-checked and edited, and even after the editor engaged by the publisher reviewed the manuscript, that I have still found a couple of typos and grammatical glitches.  As I have read, I also tweaked and done the odd nip and tuck, taking out words or descriptors that really do not add anything of value to the story.  I am embarrassed now thinking of the clumsiness of the original text.  At least I am improving.

I have also added a new thread running throughout the story, expanding on the conflict between the key characters and which will also lead into book two in which I tell Sarah’s story.

The cocktail event on Friday night should be a blast.  I don’t often have an opportunity to bring out the bling but sure will for this occasion. It will set the rest of the conference off with a bit of pizzazz.  Perhaps I’ll even come up with some new story lines.  I’ll have a drink for you.

Flying by the seat of my pants

I love the way that characters develop a life and personality of their own.  Sure we create them initially, but at that point we probably don’t fully understand their attitudes, their sense of humour or how they are likely to react in any given situation.  We don’t know what they are going to do next.  As I sit in front of that sheet of paper or the keyboard, these people develop motivations of their own and I am constantly surprised at what they do.  I am there to keep them focussed, but take their directional journey with them.

That’s not to say that the characters have full rein, as I know in general terms what their purpose is within the story – each character is there for a reason – but I draw the stick figure and the story fleshes that person out.  I enjoy getting to know them as the story progresses.

Some stories flow easier than others and The Red Heart was one of those.  It helped that I had lived for many years in Alice Springs and also that this was where I learnt to fly.  I knew the country from the air, I knew the characters and of course I knew the technicalities of flying.

Today, there are many women who make aviation their career but at the time in which this story was set, there were still barriers to women as pilots.  The attitudes encountered by Kathy were very real.  It is a real buzz for me now therefore to get onto a commercial flight, knowing that there is a woman on the flight deck.

I don’t know where Kathy is now, but perhaps she has progressed to the flight deck, still using Alice Springs as her home base, or perhaps she has settled on Mulga Downs with a brood of young jackaroos and jillaroos.  What do you think she would have done?

keyboard-hands