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How I Write… Character Development and World Building, you just have to trust yourself!

Posted by on 2010/06/23
Maewyn Bridgepost

Maewyn Bridgepost, the lead Character in my new book Edge of the Wedge, illustration by P.A. Lewis

When I begin a new manuscript it usually starts with a character that begins to tell me their story. It usually comes in pictures or scenes at that 4 AM bewitching hour.

Edge of the Wedge came a little differently. I had a picture book manuscript that had gotten a lot of interest and good feedback, but no offers. A writing friend of mine read it and said, “this could be a good picture book, but it also reads a bit like a synopsis for a great middle grade story.”

DUH! Why didn’t I think of that?! To Find A Wonder began as a PB too! The basic bones of an outline was already there I just had to decide how I was going to make it unique in a market loaded with fantasy stories.

So, long story short…er short story, long, I took that 750 word PB manuscript and I fleshed it out into a 38,000 word MG novel.

This is where my world building and character development came in. I asked myself– what characters don’t we read about in MG fantasy very often? How can I make my wizards different from all the other wizards in other books? What quirks can I give them that will make them feel like real people and less like the teachers at Hogwarts? And more world building– what do their houses look like? How do they interact with the outside world? There are some good sites on world building with lots of questions to ask yourself in order to build a well-rounded world, just Google!

I always begin by figuring out what my characters look like– that’s the easiest question to answer. The next thing I figure out is what they want and why they want it–what in their past has kept them from attaining it already?Not all of my questions get answered right away–sometimes it takes a while to know exactly why a character wants something! It wasn’t until very near completion of EOTW that I discovered why Mae’s best friend, Leif, carves animals out of wood and why it was important– but when I did finally make the connection, it made perfect sense. Of course I had to go into earlier chapters and revise–but that’s the fun part, right?

I tried to stay away from things that have been overcooked overdone (yeah, Mae is still in my head–she likes to eat!). Like the typical white wizard with the long beard and “shiny” wands. I added some fun history to my race of little country people, called Happenies, and gave their race as a whole their own culture and some funny quirks that I could use in my story to provide some funny moments.

The biggest thing I want other writers to know, esp. those just beginning their writing journey, is that it doesn’t all come together right away. A story needs dreaming time. Let your subconscious do the work for you and if it tells you something, but you don’t quite understand why your character would do that…give it time. Sooner or later, it will make sense. You just have to trust yourself.

Below is the current list of contributing writers to the HOW I WRITE blog series.

Click a link and find out HOW I WRITE! (in alphabetical order, check us all out!)

Kendall Ashby Corbit- http://www.twokendals.blogspot.com/ Rated R

Kristine Asselin – http://krisasselin.blogspot.com/ Rated PG

Tatiana Caldwell – http://tatianacaldwell.com/blog Rated R

Isabelle Flynn – http://www.isabelleflynn.com/ Rated PG

Ansha Kotyk – http://www.anshakotyk.com/blog Rated PG

Laura Pauling – http://laurapauling.com/ Rated PG

Alexia Reed – http://alexiareed.blogspot.com Rated R

Gail Roarke – http://gailroarke.blogspot.com Rated NC-17

P.M. Rousseau – http://pmrousseau.com/ Rated R

15 Responses to How I Write… Character Development and World Building, you just have to trust yourself!

  1. kris

    Great post, Jen. I’m working on the dreaming time! I sometimes get impatient that I don’t know what happens in my plot…that’s when the dreaming time comes into play!

  2. Laura Pauling

    I agree. A lot of things come together and click during the writing process. Great post!

  3. Tatiana Caldwell

    You know, I really like the point you make about just having to trust yourself.

    Because now that you’ve said it – I think that is REALLY one of my biggest causes of “writer’s block”. Not trusting that I’m getting the story right, or that I can get it right. Fear that I will fail the story really is one of my biggest stumbling blocks, and I really need to get over that and just trust myself.

    Wow. Thanks for the lightbulb, Jennifer!

  4. Ansha Kotyk

    I love that you rely on your subconscious because I do that too. I think I learned it when I did something called Fast Draft where you write 20 pages a day for 2 weeks… The pace forced me to trust myself that I was getting the story right. I didn’t have time to mull over anything that I questioned I just had to go with the flow. And it all works out. :)
    BTW, who drew Mae for you? That’s totally awesome!!! And beautiful!

  5. Kay

    Thanks for the reminder. I forget to trust myself–especially now that I’m mired in the middle of my WIP. If I keep slogging through it, it will come together and make sense. I also keep reminding myself that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. I can revise later.

    • jennifercarson

      Yeah, being right in the middle of something really screws with your “I’m just gonna trust myself” confidence. Fight the good fight! = ) And you are totally correct– a first draft is just that– a draft.

    • Gail Roarke

      When I’m deep in a project, I bounce between pleased (“Hey, this is pretty damn good!” and crushed (“Oh man, this sucks–I should trash it start over.”) on a regular basis. I’ve written two novels now, and that’s the pattern.

      But I’ve learned to ignore my feelings about whether the story is any good and Just Keep Writing. After all, tomorrow I may think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. You can’t trust your feelings when you’re in the middle of writing something; you’re too close to it. Write first, THEN edit.

  6. jennifercarson

    Gail– that is very good advice!

  7. Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall

    Wow Jenn, your Blog is fantastic!

    Very informative as well as inspiring. If it is alright with you, I would very much like to mention your blog on http://www.shadow-bird.blogspot.com . Although it’s mainly an illustration and visual story telling blog, I feel your musings would fit right in!
    Great image too BTW! ;)
    ~Pat Ann~

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