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She scored a passing reference in the second story, but was largely a withdrawn character, with her actions in book one still hanging heavily over her.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!

Romancing Melbourne

I moved to Melbourne a few months ago and since then have been looking for new writing connections. I have discovered the Melbourne Writers’ Group and also the local Romance Writers’ Group and have made valuable connections in each. Having the support of like-minded people is so helpful on what is a solo journey. I have also submitted some work (a short story and a couple of poems) to an anthology that will shortly be published by Melbourne Writers with the theme “Ties that Bind”.

I am currently half-way through book three, which will be the last of the series set in Alice Springs. This novel, with the working title of Picture This, features Melissa Gilbert, who was a rather unlikeable character in book one, The Red Heart. Getting to know Melissa has been a challenge and I really had to delve into her backstory in order to understand what motivated her to behave the way she did.

Living in an apartment now instead of a large house with all the gardening and maintenance issues has made writing a little easier in that I now have more time for it. I live quite close to my day job and so have time for a short period of writing in the morning, or at least thinking about the plot lines and where it is taking the story. Perhaps when I have finished the current series, the next book will be set in a bustling metropolis as an interesting contrast.

Sunrise over East Melbourne

View from my balcony at sunrise

Happy to make connections with any other lone writers in Melbourne.

Sunstone Success

Time for a few puffed feathers. Earlier this year, I submitted an entry for the RWA Little Gems competition.  This is a short story competition of maximum 3000 words, and it must feature the gemstone that is nominated for that year.  This year’s stone was Sunstone.

Yes, I know – I hadn’t heard of it either and had to do some research.

Sunstone – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sunstone is a plagioclase feldspar, which when viewed from certain directions exhibits a spangled appearance. It has been found in Southern Norway, Sweden and in various United States localities.

Crystal system‎: ‎Triclinic
Color‎: ‎Colorless, yellow, red, green, blue, and ..
Although Wikipedia refers to various colours, all the images depict a tangerine coloured stone.   Google it and you will see what I mean.
I thought that I might as well try my luck and the story came together quickly – a light and amusing romance tale, suitable for reading over a Sunday morning coffee.  To my delight, my story was selected as being one of the finalists and was included in the anthology of fourteen stories.
Each entry is assessed by three different judges and the comments and scores are forwarded to each entrant after the judging process is complete.  That was most valuable and I picked up some useful pointers on writing style. Also of interest was the fact that a feature one judge commented on as pleasing, another judge found to be a point of criticism so you can’t always please everyone.
The anthology was released at the recent RWA Conference that was held in Adelaide.  Now that I have had a taste of the competitions, I might submit entries in other categories next year, even if just to get the feedback.
 Sunstone Front Sunstone-Back

 

Congratulations to the other entrants and of course to Sheridan Kent who designed the cover.  The book is available at the RWA website.

 

Almost there

Great. I have just put the full stop at the end of another story, except that I haven’t finished. There is still a scene in the middle to write, but at least I know how it ends. Does anyone else write like that, sliding backwards and forwards through the story?

I read like that as well, which is one advantage of physical as opposed to e-books. I start at the front and get to know the protagonists and get the scene and plot established and then I often jump around, reading a bit here and a bit there. I may read the end and then go back and fill in all the gaps. Mostly the entire book gets read in the end. It’s not a very disciplined way of reading I know, but it suits my flibberty-gibbert brain.

This one is a short story to be included in an anthology to be published by Steam E-Reads, promoting their authors.  Well, it’s supposed to be short but I am already running over the maximum word count so some strict editing is in order.  Still, it has been fun to write and I like to think that it’s an improvement on my last.  Hope the readers think so too. It is set in a coastal town and in my mind, it’s located in the vicinity of Robe, one of my favourite seaside places to stay.

2001 West Beach web

Errands to run now but I feel that I have jumped a big hurdle with the ending. Perhaps tonight I can fill in the rest. Does this mirror your experiences as well?

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