Tuesday, 28 May 2013

How much of you is inside a story?

It is a tricky conundrum for a writer. Creating a character and a world often relies on familiarity, on drawing parallels between your own experience and the fantastical space you want to create. You trawl through every memory, every place you've visited, every experience you've had, desperately seeking to create some truth in the narrative you are writing. But how much of you ends up inside your story?

I suppose it works differently for each writer, and it depends on each individual personality. You could argue that it is impossible to write anything convincingly, if you've never experienced it. How can you accurately present love and loss if you've never understood what that means? But what if your world is so far removed from this one? How can human reference apply to a place and time so radically different from the one we inhabit? I don't think it matters. If you write, you write what you know. Even if your world is one where dragons exist and walk and talk, where people ride unicorns into the sunset, where people have three heads and eight legs, you will always place your human experience on them. Within every character, you will place the characteristics you love or despise onto them. At the back of your mind, you will remember a moment where someone, perhaps yourself, behaved similarly. When a character makes choices, you will inevitably relate it to a similar choice and its consequences, its motivations, its results. Likewise with setting; no matter how amazing the place you describe is, it will always be grounded in a place you've been, perhaps on holiday, perhaps as a child, perhaps one you created in your dreams. A writer and their work are inextricably linked, so that even when you're writing the opposite of who you are, remnants of you remain in them.

People have said to me about 'Lost Glory', well Faye is basically like you isn't she? My gut reaction is always to say 'no'. It is no secret that as a writer, I have really struggled with Faye as a character. Desperate to avoid creating a stereotypical caricature of a teen fiction character, I've found myself really thinking about the way Faye acts and the decisions she makes. I was adamant that I didn't want to create another Bella Swan, yet at the same time, I didn't want to create a Katniss Everdeen or a Clary or a Helen Hamilton either. I wanted Faye to be a normal girl. Not beautiful, or perfect, or strong, or noble, or powerful. I just wanted her to be relatable and easy for a teenage girl to read about. I wanted her to go on some type of journey, where she realises that she has strength inside of her, but she has to learn from her mistakes and bad choices, as we all do in life.  I'm yet to work out whether I have done this successfully.

Faye and I do have similarities. We both come from single parent families, with our respective fathers disappearing at a similar age. We both have had to grow up quickly. We both lack confidence in ourselves, and we both desperately want affection. But then I think the similarities end. My own relationship with my mother is far less conflicted than that of Faye with hers, and my Mum always took care of me, unless Faye's mother who exists in an alcohol drenched oblivion. Thinking back to my own experience of school. I remember existing in a headphoned world where it was just me and my music (similar to Faye). I did have friends, and I would say I was fairly popular, but I think that came more from the perception that I was clever. People gravitated towards me because I always knew the answer, and I always painted on a smile for people, no matter how difficult that felt.  Faye on the other hand, lacks any social circle. Lauren helps her muddle her way through school and through life, but essentially Faye shuts everyone out. With Faye, I think she is convinced that everyone must have an ulterior motive, If not, they have no business talking to her. I don't think this is dissimilar from many teenage girls' experiences. Being a teenage girl is hard. You are at your most paranoid and self conscious in many senses. Your body is changing and you don't always understand it. You're making that transition between being a girl and a woman, and no one tells you whether you are doing it 'right'. Boy that you used to tease and hate suddenly become objects of desire, and you watch all of your friends becoming more grown up before you, whilst you in some sense feel left behind. Even if you're actually not. Through the character of Faye, I wanted to encapsulate this feeling of isolation and alienation that school can make teenagers feel.

At the start of 'Lost Glory', I deliberately wanted Faye to be weak. I wanted her to be a social outcast, to have no confidence in herself and for her to be distinctly average in all areas. In some ways, Faye is ridiculously weak at the start of the novel. This frustrated me initially, as I cannot stand the idea of female characters being weak. However, now I don't mind this so much, as it makes her rash decision to sell her soul to the first attractive person who looks at her way more believable. Had Faye been really intelligent, or really pretty, or really comfortable in her own skin, she would have said no. Her weakness and vulnerability also serves to emphasise the change in her personality over the course of her novel, and the way that Lee brings out the best in her. He makes her funny and witty and sarcastic. but also opens her up to love. Rather than walking around in the body armour she appears to for the opening of the novel, he breaks down her barriers, softens her and makes her talk to him. By the end of 'Lost Glory', Faye is not the same person she was. I cannot say too much about how she changes, but she is undoubtedly a better person because of her experience. In fact, the Faye that exists at the end of the novel is far closer to who I am as a person than she is at the start.

The relationship with Lee was a challenge. It was a given that they would fall in love. I'm a total romantic deep down, and I enjoyed creating Lee so much that I wanted him to be with someone he deserved. At the start of the novel (the extract is on the blog), he comes across as being evil through and through. A dangerous move perhaps, as people rarely fall into one category or the other. Lee needed to be more layered and more complex than that. His first role in the novel is to be seductive, to lead Faye into the contract that secures her soul. He works for Lucifer, so I also wanted to bring out his sense of loyalty and brotherly affection. These two characteristics, although noble, are in fact two of Lee's weaknesses. He carries on down the course he is on because of this misplaced loyalty to Lucifer. But Lee is also completely taken by surprise that someone like Faye can hold his interest. She is awkward, irritating and hard to please, but she has a good heart deep down and makes him believe that he is also something worth saving. He doesn't have to be the 'monster' he says he is. The way that she forces him to question himself and his decisions is what holds them together, and the way that he shows her that morality is shades of grey rather than black and white makes her doubt her own perception of how people could/should behave. Essentially. they do for each other what I believe a good relationship should do. They bring out the best in each other. They feel like a couple you genuinely root for, and you curse them at their lowest moments, and rejoice when they get it right. Managing to make the reader care for their relationship was one of the easiest but also hardest things to get right in 'Lost Glory'.

Now I am moving on to write my sequel 'Echoes of Glory', I find myself reevaluating the characters. Thinking about the distance they travelled in the first novel and what that means for them now. Those of you that have read the extract of 'Siren Call' will know that the introduction of a new male character is on the cards. Oliver is... interesting. Having become so in tune with Lee as a character, having to place myself in the shoes of someone new is difficult. With Lee, I feel like I completely understand the motivations behind the decisions he makes, and actually his journey in 'Lost Glory' feels natural. Oliver on the other hand, has rather questionable motives. He is trouble with a capital 'T' and I'm looking forward to developing him more in later chapters. Adding a new dynamic to the story is necessary, but don't worry. This is not going to be some 'Twilight-esque' love triangle. Oliver isn't interested in love ;-)

I hope my ramblings made some sense! Keep reading and sharing!


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