So, I’m stalling, because I know I have to write a piece for Magical Words for today and I have absolutely no ideas. Nada. Zilch. Not because I don’t have a lot to say. (Just try to shut me up.) But because I’ve done so many blogs and articles and talks at this point that I feel I’ve said it all.
I’m playing around with ideas. Maybe I’ll have Tori Karacis, my PI who can literally stop men in their tracks, aka the heroine of my Latter-Day Olympians series, interview me in a shameless self-promotional gambit. (Plug: the second in the series, Crazy in the Blood, comes out in print in July and the third, Rise of the Blood, releases in digital in September.)
I can hear it now:
Tori: Hey, chicky, so you went to Greece and all I got was this lousy book? (See Rise of the Blood)
Me: Um, hello, your book is set in Greece. Delphi, no less, one of the most amazing places on Earth.
Tori: Sure, you put me in Delphi and then have me fighting for my life. What kind of sadistic SOB does that? I say we switch. Next time, I get to play tourist and you get to save the day. How would that be?
Me: You think taking a preteen with jetlag halfway across the world qualifies as a vacay, you be my guest. I’ll take Armani…or Apollo. I’m not picky.
Tori: I think your husband might have something to say about that.
You can see how that whole conversation might devolve into something not fit for Magical Words.
So I thought about characters and how they come to be—for me, often like Athena springing fully grown from the head of Zeus. (Not that I’m Zeus, by any means. For one thing, I’m a lot less hairy. And not that my characters are Athena, though she may or may not make an appearance at some point.) In other words, I don’t so much sit down to develop my characters as have them start talking to me, and I have to get to know them and give them others to talk to and fight with so that they don’t hijack my head.
I did a school talk a few weeks ago with a couple of other authors, and one of the best questions we were asked was, “What does it take to be a writer?” It just so happened that I’d had a conversation with a friend of mine not long before that seemed to tie in. He said, “You know me.” I answered quite honestly, “No, I know who I’ve made you out to be.” It’s true. Writers fill in the blanks. Not just for our characters, but for folks we don’t know when people watching, say in an airport or bus terminal. We do it for our friends, creating motivation and backstory behind why they’ve cancelled on us or not called back right away or… We see an abandoned bag and immediately wonder if it’s a drop or a bomb or something left behind in a kidnapping. A lot of people do this to an extent, but for authors it’s nearly pathological. What we actually observe is only the tip of the iceberg. Everything below decks is imagination.
You all might have heard me talk before about my fantastic fifth grade teacher, Mr. Hart, whose passion was writing and inspiring the spark in others. I remember the writing prompts he used to give us—sometimes the beginning of a sentence we had to use to launch our story, sometimes an ambiguous picture. Either way, we had to fill in the blanks. Use what was there and create what wasn’t. Develop the connections, the storyline, the characters. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my process isn’t so different today, only I might use mythology and folklore as my prompts: in the Latter-Day Olympians series it’s, of course, Greek mythology. In the Vamped series it’s traditional vampire lore, but with a character who’s completely non-traditional for the genre. She’s not angsty; she doesn’t brood, though she is pissed at facing an eternity with no way to fix her hair and make-up.
The long and short of this is that Mr. Hart and his lessons are still very relevant today. His version of “get it down, then get it right” is pretty applicable as well. We had timed writing assignments, during which our pens were not allowed to stop moving, even if it was to write “nothing at all, nothing at all” until we thought of something infinitely more interesting. I think we can all appreciate this. Keep it moving. As better brains than mine have said, “You can’t revise what isn’t on the page.”
Thanks, Mr. Hart.