Writing

Keeping Characters Consistent

This past week as I was knee-deep in working on The Reanimator’s Heart, I put out a call for blog post ideas because I was tapped. Someone asked how I keep my characters consistent. I’m not sure if this is from book-to-book or from beginning to end of the same book, but today’s post will cover both.

As with all writing, this is covering my process and what works for me. If my way of doing things doesn’t jive with you, luckily the world is full of resources that will hopefully work better. *shrugs* It happens.

My Character Development Process

I want to cover this [briefly] because I do think the way I create characters affects how I deal with consistency later. I am not a planner, at all, when I write, so the thing my stories really start with is the characters. Usually, I have a vague idea of who these people are and what issues they might have.

For instance, Eilian Sorrell from The Earl of Brass began as archaeologist who loses arm and gets a new one that is steampunk in some way. From there, it was an easy jump to say what if the other character/love interest was the person who made the prosthesis. That’s where Hadley came in. I stewed over Eilian for a while. Who in the Victorian Era could afford to be an archaeologist and travel all over? Well, someone who is wealthy, so maybe he’s titled. But would he like being titled? His family probably wouldn’t like him being a globe-trotting archaeologist, so he might not have the best relationship with his societal status or family. These attributes set the core issues the character has, and from there, I can usually see a personality starting to develop. He’s the eldest son but the black sheep of the family. He loves archaeology not for the prizes or accolades (he already has wealth and status) but because he finds learning about the past to be a giant puzzle. It also takes him far away from familial expectations, which is an added bonus.

Now that I have some of the core features of this character, I pick what they look like (sometimes I have that before I get too deep into their personality), but the minutiae of them as a character comes from writing them. Often I just start writing the story and see where the characters take me, and if someone is being particularly stubborn or not forthcoming (*cough* Adam *cough*), I’ll do some free-writing or use scene prompts to see how they would react or what might be lurking underneath. I don’t use DnD character sheets or those 100 question sheets about characters before I start writing them. This is partly because I tend to think of my characters as real people, so I don’t necessarily know everything about them and that’s okay with me. I’d rather give them the room to let me find out more as I work with them. It also keeps you from writing yourself into a corner later.

I can already hear someone say, “But if you don’t know everything about them, how do you keep them consistent?”

Well, you don’t. Not exactly.

Consistency, Not Uniformity, is Key

From the beginning to the end of a story or the beginning to the end of a series, a main character should change**. They shouldn’t be wildly out of character, but there should be a difference in them between the beginning and end, that’s why they’re the main character.

**If you’re writing detective fiction or a thriller or something pulpy with the same main character, this might be less true as they tend to be more static or change far slower than typical 2-5 book series.

When we talk about consistency, we have to be careful that we don’t mean the character must be uniform throughout a story or series. Their experiences in the story should and would change them. They should be affected by what happens to them and their friends, for better or worse. If your character is exactly the same from the beginning to the end, there is a problem. Sometimes this is because your story is following the wrong character, and you need to reorient the story to follow someone else’s journey. Other times, this is because you haven’t looked far enough into the psychological and emotional changes that would befall a character making this journey.

The question you should have is what change is consistent with who they are? Let’s continue to use Eilian from The Earl of Brass.

When Eilian finds out his father has died suddenly and he is now the earl, his reaction is shock. He’s shocked and terribly upset because he and his father never got along, never made up, and he’s grieving for the closure and support he’ll never have while also grappling with the fact that the life of traveling he loves may be over forever due to familial duty. He isn’t a fighter, but his flight reaction is hampered by the fact that he does love his mother and doesn’t want to make things harder for her. Instead, he agrees to go home and deal with it. He’s doesn’t like being the black sheep of the family, so while he won’t conform outright, he won’t make things worse either. Eilian returning home is consistent with who he is. Eilian marrying whomever he pleases (his middle class, independent, capable, masc-ish partner, Hadley) is also very on brand for him, but him standing up for himself to his family is his major change by the end of the story. It’s his experiences in the desert and see what he could lose that gives him more of a backbone. Even having this new title/position adds to that strength in the moment, turning a hindrance into an asset.

Is he still consistently the antithesis of what his family wants? Yes. Does he still do what he wants? Yes. But does his willingness to now face his family instead of fleeing judgment make sense after what happens in the story? Yes.

Confirming Consistency in a Story or Series

  1. Read the entire book over again once you finish. Pay attention to how the character is at the beginning, how they act after the first point of no return, at the midpoint, at the climax, and at the end.
  2. Looking at those points in the story, does the character’s emotional/psychological journey make sense? Do we see a logical behavioral progression? They should be becoming better people or overcoming their issues or even becoming more horrid, but we should see change.
  3. This does not mean we can’t have some backsliding in the middle. Often, there’s a 50-80% plot point where the characters panic and revert to hold habits, which makes sense because progress tends to be 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
  4. If there are moments where your character acts wildly out of character, reel them in. At the same time, make sure all your characters are not reacting the same way. For instance, a quiet character may have a high threshold before they start yelling while a more extroverted or short-tempered character might react more swiftly.
  5. Remember that every major plot point should have some reaction or impact. Some will be long lasting, others temporary, but there should be a ripple effect all the same (some may take longer to come out depending on the character, trauma, etc.).
  6. In terms of a series, all of the above applies, but you need to pay attention to the progression from book to book while still maintaining the core of who this person is. If you have a trilogy or five book series in mind, you might want to think ahead of time where you want this character to ultimately end up. Each book should be incremental change toward that. After each book, see where they came from to get a better idea of where they’re heading in the next installment. I read my entire series/books with those characters before I start working on the next book. It helps to reacquaint me with the characters.

The key takeaways are: reread your work from start to end. Reread it often (with each new book or even when halfway through your current project). Make sure the progression is logical and that there are reactions to actions. And finally, don’t force your characters in a direction they wouldn’t go because it doesn’t make sense for them.

I hope this helps as you all write your characters and work on your series! If there is any topic you would like me to talk about, please leave a comment below.

The Ingenious Mechanical Devices Series · Writing

The Hadley Problem

If you’ve read The Earl of Brass or The Earl and the Artificer, you know Hadley Sorrell (formerly Hadley Fenice). If not, here’s a little biographical information: Hadley is an inventor and artisan who ends up creating a new prosthetic arm for Eilian Sorrell (her future husband). She’s described as having henna red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and prefers trousers to dresses as they are far more suitable for her purposes and overall, she just likes them more.

Nothing there sounds too out of the ordinary, but the “problem” arises when Hadley dresses as a man repeatedly in the story and seems totally fine being treated as such and enjoys it. So much so that she decides to keep her hair short in future books and wears a faux bun when in the company of people who might complain (consider the story is set in the early 1890s).

Now, back in 2013 when I was writing this book, I had just figured out I was queer. It should have been blatantly obvious by how much of a rainbow covered ally I was. I already knew I was asexual, but I was beginning to realize I was biromantic as well. At the time, I had never heard of being nonbinary. My only exposure to trans people was Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars and a vague knowledge of Christine Jorgensen, who was a famous trans woman who happened to share my last name. Every trans person I knew of was still a man or a woman. Despite not knowing there was such a thing as being nonbinary, I was still grappling with very complicated gender feelings.

I have never felt like a woman, ever. As a teen, I rejected purses, nail polish, getting my hair done, and the idea of putting on a dress and being done up for prom made me feel ill (what I recognize now as dysphoria). I ended up skipping all the fancy, “fun” stuff at the end of high school because dressing like that felt wrong. My body and brain didn’t mesh, and I constantly felt like I didn’t fit, especially when my family tried to foist it on to me. Eventually they gave up, but during college when I was writing The Earl of Brass, I poured my feelings about gender and not fitting in into Hadley.

Hadley is physically strong from years of helping her brother and working in the shop with heavy ceramics. She has a good grasp of what we’d consider mechanical engineering today, and she can create complex mechanisms and workings as well as the artistic flourishes that come with them. She cuts her hair short, adopts the name Henry, appears to be a young man (younger than her actually age and slightly effeminate), and goes on an adventure with Eilian Sorrell.

The “problem” now is that it’s blatantly obvious to me that she should be nonbinary, agender, or genderfluid. Those words didn’t exist back in the 1890s, so part of me thinks it’s a moot point to bother getting worked up over it. There were people we could consider transgender during that time period without using our modern terminology. Even in the second book Hadley’s in, we see her struggle with expectation and get anxious about not fitting in or being another. Still, there’s nothing said explicitly about it.

I once stumbled across someone on Twitter asking if Hadley was nonbinary or if the portrayal of her going in disguise was the usual transphobic, oh they automatically pass as a man, type deal, and it was hard to sit with that because she encapsulates so much of what I was feeling before I realized I was nonbinary. She was a stepping stone in me realizing there was something outside of the binary where I fit, and in her portrayal in The Earl of Brass while disguised, she is seen as a queer man by outsiders. A character outright says she’s a young gay man who is Eilian Sorrell’s boyfriend (his affection is pretty obvious), and she uses he/him pronouns in the book when acting as Henry, switching back and forth depending on who she is with. So does she pass as a cis straight man in the story? No. She’s inherently seen as queer when living as Henry, and it makes me laugh now because back in college, I used to tell people that I felt like a gay man in a woman’s body. What I really meant (now that I can parse it out better) is that I am very queer and mildly masc leaning. I will always be slightly effeminate even if outright femininity makes me squirm, so seeing men act feminine felt more akin to how I felt internally because I didn’t feel comfortably being wholly femme or masculine. I consider myself agender/genderless, but the definition above is one that I apply to myself only.

It’s complicated.

Being queer is complicated. Gender is aggravatingly complicated, and putting those feelings into words is messy because they can be interpreted a myriad of ways, some of which are nowhere near what you feel. I have been hesitant to write this post because so much of it is laying my own feelings regarding my gender on the table for others to pick over.

Hadley is my first character that explored gender expectations, norms, and ultimately found there were pieces of each side she knew that she wanted to use. By writing this, I was sort of hoping I could figure out what I wanted to do with Hadley in the future. I would like to write another book with her and Eilian, and I’ve put off doing so because I think her feelings regarding gender should be a part of that book but wasn’t sure how people would react. Just because you consider yourself cis at 24, doesn’t mean you won’t be nonbinary by 28. I didn’t adopt that label until about the same age despite those feeling brewing for years, and I think if Hadley comes out as something like agender or genderfluid, it isn’t retconning her character. The blueprint and evidence was there, it just takes years sometimes to figure out what those feelings mean and how you want to live your life going forward.

I have nothing particularly clever to end with, just that I hope people will still cheer for a character who figures out their identity a little later in life and that we will give them the same grace we give people who don’t come out as teenagers. Hadley is a huge part of how I figured out my own identity, and in the future, I’d like to see her figure out hers too.

selkie cove · Writing

Preview of Selkie Cove: Ch 1

Selkie Cove banner1

First off, yes, I know I have been incredibly negligent these past few months regarding this blog. I’m going to try to be better about that in the near future.

So I’m hitting that point in the novel writing/editing/marketing/creating journey where I get itchy feet about sharing things with you. Thus far, I’ve been good, but today, I must share an in-progress version of chapter one of Selkie Cove. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is the blurb:

Selkie Cove 2

Without further ado, here is the first chapter of Selkie Cove:


Chapter One

Confirmed Bachelors

 

Adam Fenice resisted the urge to turn around and check the clock ticking in the corner again for fear of drawing the attention of the other clerks and accountants. Keeping his back to them, he pulled out his pocket watch and took a quick glance. He bit down the earnest smile threatening to cross his lips. In a little over an hour, he and Immanuel would be having lunch together. No matter how often they saw each other, knowing that Immanuel waited for him sent a flutter through his breast. For weeks Immanuel had been busy running between the natural history museum and the British Museum. Between late nights, the impromptu meetings with the heads of the museums, and the nightmares and insomnia from the added stress, they had barely spent a peaceful day, or night, together. Today would be different. Immanuel said everything had been taken care of, and now things would go back to normal.

Adam scoffed at the thought. Normal. Nothing about his life was ever normal. Instead of dealing with Hadley’s toy business or his brother’s consumption, he had Immanuel’s magic to enliven his quiet life. His time spent at the office puzzling out sums and inconsistencies was a welcome relief from coming home to find Immanuel experimenting with new sigils that sent things crashing across the room or turned his tea to dingy brown ice. Between magic and Percy, their cat—if one could call him that when he was solely comprised of bones and mischief—Adam was happy to come to work and deal with facts and figures, where things that were certain no matter what happened outside.

“Fenice, can you come here a moment?” Mr. Bodkin called from his office.

Rising from his desk, Adam stretched and glanced at the clock one more time. He silently sighed, hoping this wouldn’t be an hour long conversation on Sarah Bernhardt’s latest exploit. He had promised Immanuel he would get to the museum promptly to prevent Sir William Henry Flower from commandeering him. If he played his cards right, he could distract Bodkin with a question or two and return to his work. As Adam pushed open the door to Horace Bodkin’s dim cubby of an office, he knew something was wrong. His supervisor sat with his hands folded on his blotter, his thumbs twitching in time with his beady eyes, which ran over everything but Adam’s face. Adam hesitantly sank into the chair before his desk, resisting the urge to scratch his wrist.

“Sir, is there anything—?”

“We have to let you go,” Bodkin blurted.

For a moment, Adam merely stared at him, unsure if his ears had played tricks on him, but when Bodkin’s eyes never wavered from him and his lips twitched into a regretful frown, he knew he had heard correctly. The saliva dried in his throat as he strained to speak.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but may I ask why? Have I made an error?” Adam asked, his mind flitting over the numbers he had tabulated and double-checked over the past few weeks.

“Oh, heavens, no. You’re one of my best workers.”

“Then why am I being let go?”

Mr. Bodkin released a tired breath, his sloped shoulders sighing in agreement. In the dim light with his face more pensive than he had ever seen, he seemed so much older. Adam had liked him best of all his employers. The man had given him his extra tickets to the theatre and chatted with him about novels and society page gossip, but as he tented his meaty, ringed hands and met Adam’s gaze, the fissure of rank widened into a chasm. It had been foolish to ever assume they were friends.

“You must understand, this isn’t my doing, Fenice,” Bodkin said, dropping his voice. “It was Mr. Ellis. His son is to marry soon, and he needs to secure a proper position for him.”

“I see,” he spat, his chest tight with a raw resentment he hadn’t felt since his older brother was alive. Adam’s jaw tightened as he pictured that miser Ellis’s lout of a son sitting at his desk. He eyed Bodkin. How long would it be before the boss’s son was out of his desk and in his supervisor’s chair? “And what about Penn or Weiland? They have been here less than a year. I’ve been here for four. This isn’t fair.”

“Trust me, I agree with you. You know you’re one of my favorites.” For a moment, he looked as if he might reach out and touch Adam’s arm, but upon seeing the blue fire in Adam’s eyes, he thought the better of it. “It’s just that— that— you aren’t the image Mr. Ellis wants for his business. You know, you go to the theatre, you’re an Aesthete who openly supports Wilde’s crowd, you dress flamboyantly—”

Adam glanced down at his silk paisley waistcoat as if seeing it for the first time before crossing his arms over it.

“And you’re a bachelor.”

A derisive laugh escaped his lips. “What does my marital status have to do with my work? If anything, I should have less distractions.”

Mr. Bodkin swallowed hard, his shiny black eyes darting for an answer. “Mr. Ellis likes to see people settled. A bachelor could pick up and leave at any moment, but a man with a wife and children has an anchor. You’re sharing your flat with another bachelor, aren’t you?”

Adam froze. Something lurked beneath the question, plunging his anger into something far colder. Bodkin of all people should have known the significance of Ellis’s decree. Then again, he had a ring on his finger and a brood at home.

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“I have no problems with it, but Mr. Ellis…”

“Penn shares a flat with another bookkeeper. Many young men have roommates.”

“Yes, I know, but do you perhaps have a lady friend you—?”

“No,” Adam replied, his voice sharper than he intended.

“I figured as much.” Pulling an envelope from his desk, Bodkin sighed and held it out for Adam to take. “I was able to convince him to give you an extra week’s wages for the inconvenience. I really am sorry about this, Fenice, but there was nothing I could do to change his mind.”

As he reached to take the money, Adam steadied his hand, biting back the urge to snatch it from him. It was Ellis’ fault, he reminded himself. Bodkin was merely a useless mole forced to do his bidding. A man who, like him, had kept his head down and tried not to make trouble for anyone. Only he had succeeded.

“Thank you for your generosity,” Adam murmured, his voice quavering against his will.

He didn’t try to suppress it. The rage would come out one way or another, and a little edge was much better than the venom creeping up his throat. Adam swallowed and dug his nail into his wrist as he turned, pushing in until he regained control. That was his whole life, wasn’t it? Maintaining an air of control. As he stood to leave, Bodkin’s eyes bore into his back, but before he could look away, Adam whipped around in time to see the man jump back.

A thrill of satisfaction rang through him as he slowly stuffed the envelope of money into his breast pocket. “I appreciate all you have done for me, Mr. Bodkin. I just hope Ellis can see past our shared faults when he inevitably turns his attention to promoting his son. Good day, sir.”

Without looking back, Adam marched into the office with his back rigid and his face a mask of hauteur. His heart pounded as the junior accountants and clerks raised their gazes from their papers in unison to watch him pass while the only other senior accountant kept his eyes buried in his work. Adam stared ahead as he silently walked to his desk near the window despite half a dozen pairs of eyes pressing into his back. How much had they heard? He couldn’t look at them. He didn’t want to know what they thought of his sudden fall. Pity? Scorn? Satisfaction? All he wanted was to get out as quickly as possible with some semblance of dignity.

His eyes traveled over the contents of his desk, lingering on ledgers he had been perusing for a suspected embezzlement case. The figures he had toiled over for days were meaningless now. Some other man would finish his work and take the credit for the case he had built. Adam drew in a constrained breath. Unlike the other men in the office, he had no pictures of his pretty wife or handsome children to show to clients or Mr. Ellis when they came to call. Sitting on a stack of papers closest to the window was an ammonite fossil Immanuel had given to him when they stayed at his brother-in-law’s estate in Dorset that summer. It was the only bit of his life he had allowed to bleed into his work. He could still remember the thrill of danger at having a token of Immanuel’s love in plain view. That was all he would take with him. Adam snatched the fossil, ignoring the slap of paper and the startled cries of his coworkers as the wind scattered the stack. As he slipped on his coat and top hat, he felt the weight of the ammonite in his hand and saw himself hurl it through the windowpane in his mind’s eye. Dropping it into his pocket, he kept his gaze forward, his mouth neutral, and passed down the familiar creaking steps to Lombard Street.

The bitter October cold pawed at his cheeks and tousled the edge of his pomaded henna hair as he slipped out the door. With his hand tightly around the ammonite in his pocket, Adam walked blindly and tried to keep his steps casual. His mind tallied up the rent, the cost to bring in a housekeeper, how much the washerwoman charged against Immanuel’s salary and what Adam remembered to be inscribed in his bankbook. How long would it last? He had only been out of work once during his career and money had been the least of his concerns then. Bodkin had refused his resignation and gave him time off to put his mind to rights, citing his brother’s recent passing. No one would come through for him now.

Men in dark wool coats and top hats pushed passed him on their way to banks and solicitors’ offices just like his. One man tipped his hat to Adam. Recognizing him from their business dealings only a month before, Adam gave him a nod but kept his eyes ahead. How long would it take for news of his departure to reach the other accountants or the clients he regularly worked for? He had spent his whole life avoiding becoming the subject of gossip, and now, it had been thrust upon him.

When Adam stopped moving long enough to surface from his thoughts, he stood at the iron staircase of the Metropolitan station that would take him home. Home. The word caught in Adam’s throat in a wet knot. He swallowed it down and hardened his jaw. He wouldn’t lose it. It had been his family’s home for as long as he had been alive and now it belonged to him and Immanuel. There was no way he would let someone like Ellis take that away from him, but the idea of sitting alone with his thoughts until Immanuel came home was more than he could bear. Without someone there to temper his emotions, he could only imagine the destruction he might cause, and that would be far worse than holding it in a while longer. That was simple. He had choked down the same bitter pill for nearly twenty years.

Glancing at his watch, Adam took the stairs into the labyrinth of brick and wood stretching beneath the city. The stench of urine and feculence burned his nose as he listened for the distant rumble of the electric train. He could take the train to Greenwich and vent to Hadley about what had happened. His sister would understand. She would rail against the injustice of it as only she could, but then, she would have solutions. Hadley would have half a dozen thought up in an instant, most of which would inevitably be tied to her husband, the Earl of Dorset. The thought sent a wave of nausea gurgling through Adam’s gut.

No, Immanuel was waiting for him at the museum to go out for lunch, and he couldn’t disappoint him twice in one day. Before he could change his mind, the train barreled into the station. Straightening, Adam slipped past the conductor and numbly settled in near the window. All he needed was to pretend everything was all right. If he simply didn’t acknowledge it, then perhaps he could never disappoint Immanuel with his failures. If it had worked for most of his life, surely it could work for another hour.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think of this excerpt, and I will update everyone as we move closer to publication.

Writing

Bookish Favorites

We all know what we hate to see in book, but what makes us giddy with anticipation? As a follow-up to my Bookish Bitching post, I will now list 20 things I love to see in books.

  1. Leather-bound, embossed, gilded books
  2. Artistic book covers
  3. A series that matches yet each cover is unique
  4. Vibrantly colored book covers
  5. Old book smell
  6. Box sets for series, especially with pretty/illustrated sleeves
  7. Complex characters
  8. Maps at the front or back
  9. Characters who are romantically involved yet their relationship isn’t based solely on sexual attraction
  10. Books with diverse casts, especially main characters
  11. Antagonists who are morally ambiguous
  12. Atmospheric settings and genres
  13. Male and female characters who are just friends
  14. Authors who write a finite series in a timely manner
  15. Books that cross genres in a unique and surprising way
  16. Books with illustrations to match the text
  17. Characters who are human (have strengths, flaws, dreams, moments of weakness)
  18. Authors who enjoy interacting with their readers
  19. Goodreads/Amazon/Barnes and Noble recommendations that lead to new favorites
  20. Books that hit the spot and make it so you can barely put them down

What are some bookish things you love?

Personal Life · Writing

Who Am I & Why Do I Do This?

I think as writers and bloggers, we assume that everyone knows who we are or that they somehow found their way to the About page or that original post we made when we started our blog that stated who we were and why we bothered making a blog. I’ve had this blog for over a year now, so I thought it would be prudent to reintroduce myself, especially since I think this year has been one of growth and change for me.

Who am I?

My name is Kara Jorgensen, and I am a [nearly] twenty-four year old writer from New Jersey. No, we do not have accents like those people on The Jersey Shore. Currently, I am working toward an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing and only have a year left before I complete my degree. Of the 16 major personality types, I am an INTJ-A, which means that I am the “architect” type. Shockingly, this says a lot about me. I demand perfection of myself and others and strive to meet my goals through whatever means necessary. For years, I have asked a lot of myself in terms of school and grades, and that has now shifted to my writing.

My ultimate goal is to one day be a full-time writer or nearly full-time writer as I would also like to become an English professor. Sometimes in my pursuit of my goals, I take myself too seriously and occasionally burn out for a time, usually after accomplishing that goal. What recharges my batteries are: my border collie mixes, Edgar and Finny, my boyfriend, trips to bookstores or museums, and of course, writing and reading.

Currently, I have two books out, The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, which are both part of a steampunk-ish series. I say steampunk-ish because my books fall more into historical fiction than fantasy or scifi. It’s probably an 80-20 split between historical and fantasy. If you like Victorian literature or period dramas, you may like my writing, but if you’re looking for space battles or goggles on saloon girls wielding Gatling guns, you’re not going to find it here. Right now, I am working on the third book in my steampunk series, The Earl and the Artificer, as well as a companion short story that will go between books two and three. In the coming year, I’m hoping to work on the fourth book in the series and possibly branch out to a more heavily fantasy series (the aesthetic is old leather-bound books, humanoid creatures of mythology like something out of Pan’s Labyrinth, and old houses).

Why do I do this?

I ask myself this a lot. From as far back as I can remember, I have always loved to write stories. I drew little picture books where cats and dogs went on adventures and when I wasn’t writing them down, my Barbies were embroiled in soap opera-like drama. Writing is like a compulsion for me. I have characters and stories chattering in my head, knocking at my brain for me to write out their scenes.

One of the things I noticed as I grew up was that there weren’t often characters I immediately connected with. As a middle class, white girl from the suburbs, it seems odd that there wasn’t a female character that struck a cord with me. The girls were almost always stereotypical girls (pink, fashion, boy problems) and apart from Hermione, I was dissatisfied with what I found. It made me wonder how people who are minorities or varying sexualities and genders felt when they couldn’t find themselves in characters, so I have decided to dedicate part of my writing career to exploring diverse characters, especially ones of diverse sexuality and gender.

This blog is dedicated to the mid-writing rambles of an up-and-coming author. One day it may be a progress report, the next day it may be me railing against the man or a blurb about sexuality or gender in the Victorian era. No matter the subject, it will be a behind the scenes look at my life as a writer and twenty-four year old.

Writing

The Elusive Bi Character

In preparation for a fantasy novel I am planning to write in the near future, I decided to look up bisexual characters because my main character (actually two of my main characters) are bisexual. This proved to be easier said than done.

What I found was not exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find books with bisexual characters, or more importantly, characters who happened to be bisexual. In the media, bisexual characters are often treated as merely plot devices. Oh, is the drama ebbing? Let’s toss in a bisexual character who will come into the protagonist’s life and either steal their boy/girlfriend or to form a love-triangle. This has added to the prejudice society has against bisexuals and leads people to falsely believe that bisexuals cannot be monogamous, will cheat on their partner, or wants a threesome. Just because a person likes two genders does not mean they want both at the same time. I came across a lot of books that sadly used these tropes.

I then decided to go onto Goodreads and explore their Listopia section for books with bisexual characters. This lead to numerous lists of LGBT characters, which I was not willing to pick through. My attention span does not last long enough for me to investigate two hundred different books, but I did find a few lists that could be of use to my research. As I scrolled through, of course a number (probably the majority) were straight up romance novels, which I skipped past. It wasn’t surprising since it makes sense that a writer would focus on the character’s sexuality, but the amount of stories that I found with a character who just happened to be bisexual was a bit disappointing. Because my future project will be a fantasy story, I wanted to find some books in the same genre. Luckily, I came across Pantomime by Laura Lam on an LGBT blog’s list and am hoping to read it in the near future.

As I was doing my research, I began to think about my characters and some of the problems a writer may come across while writing a bisexual character. Because society tends to think in terms of gay or straight, sometimes it’s hard to solidify that a character does indeed like both men and women. How many relationships need to be mentioned to get that across? Do I need to show these relationships or can my character just say she is bisexual? Then, I was wondering if she will be judged by her latest relationship. She previously had a girlfriend, but now she is falling for a man. Will she be straight-washed by readers? Will they assume she is suddenly straight? The answer is, probably. If she was dating a woman most recently, would they say she was gay or would they say she was experimenting? On some level, I don’t think there is a correct answer. No matter what order I portray her relationships, she will probably be only identified by her last relationship. My male character will also face the same difficulties. Male bisexuals tend to be immediately deemed gay or assumed to be a gay man who cannot accept himself and therefore still has relationships with women.

When writing characters, I don’t go into it thinking they will be x or y, but as I get to know them, I learn more about their past histories and often their past relationships. As I have gotten further into figuring out these two characters, I realized both had had relationships with their own sex and the opposite sex. They pose an interesting challenge in terms of the way the public may potentially view them and how I can work around these issues or if I should pay them any heed at all and just write what I feel is right for them. More than likely, I will do the latter.

If you know of any books with bisexual characters, please send them my way.

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Writing

Genre Fixation: Upmarket Fiction

In several posts, I have raged against the literary fiction v. genre fiction situation in the publishing world. One is held in high regard yet is often boring, the other is derided as trite or too commercial. As a writer who finds herself stuck in the middle of these two extremes and utterly frustrated by the hundreds of descriptors for genre and style, I never felt my work fit in any one category.

This week I discovered a new genre, upmarket fiction. This is the definition from editor Robb Grindstaff, “From an audience perspective, upmarket means fiction that will appeal to readers who are educated, highly read, and prefer books with substantive quality writing and stronger stories/themes. Upmarket describes commercial fiction that bumps up against literary fiction, or literary fiction that holds a wider appeal, or a work straddles the two genres.” The Book Genre Dictionary defines it as “Books in the upmarket fiction genre are made up of stories that merge the commercial and literary genres. The books appeal to well-read, sophisticated readers who want a high quality and complexity of writing, but that also have strong characters and plot. Upmarket genre books are often book club titles and inspire not only enjoyment of the story in a reader, but thought and discussion as well. The books consist of many layers of meaning and emotion, making them more complex.”

I must admit that I saw the definition and went, YES! This is what I have been looking for when describing my work. I’m not all genre and I’m not all literary, I’m somewhere in between. It’s always disappointing when readers see steampunk or historical fantasy and assume it will be action-packed. Sorry, readers, mine is not. There is action, but I find myself more focused on my characters. What are they going through? How are their lives affected by the events of the story? How are they changing through each story/trauma? I like to think of my characters are humans rather than archetypes or unchanging figures, which you sometimes see in suspense or action series where the main character goes on adventures through dozens of books. They stay in character for the entire series, but they do so at the expense of growth.

At its heart, I think this is what upmarket fiction is. It’s a book with genre fiction aesthetics (such as being set in a fantasy world, alternate history, or dystopia), but rather than focusing on the action only, the author pays more attention to the characters and plot than how much action drives it. The downside to upmarket is it sounds a bit… snobby. The main issue is where the definitions suggest only highly educated people will like upmarket, but I think what they really mean is people who want more than just 300 pages of action. Upmarket readers want a deeper connection to the plot and characters. They value complexity in not only the characters’ psyches but the plot. They want a book that makes them think.

I also tend to be a reader of upmarket fiction. I get frustrated with literary fiction when it’s a hundred pages longer than it ought to be and tends to ramble. With genre fiction, I get frustrated when the characters don’t change or don’t react appropriately to the horrors they are dealing with. A monster just tore his best friend to shreds, yet he decides to make out with his girl friend and only mourn his loss for two sentences. I need more substance but not the point of literary fiction where it once again becomes insubstantial.

Some upmarket books would be: The Golem and the Jinni, Water for Elephants, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and The Left Hand of Darkness.


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Writing

Relatable or Realistic MCs

alys party picShould main characters be a body the reader slips into or should they be their own autonomous being, free to be as eccentric and wayward as they please? I came across on article called “Five Books That Broke Sacred Writing Rules (And Yet We Love Them),” and it mentions Gail Carriger’s Soulless and how the main character is not universally relatable. While I find most of these “rules” rather dumb (please pardon my screw-the-rules mentality for literature), it made me wonder whether writers should strive to make characters universal or whether they should let them stand as complex beings–human beings.

I understand that an alien who has five limbs, breathes underwater, and can only communicate through clicks may not be the most relatable character for a modern reader, but where does universality begin and end? As a writer, my biggest fear of universal characters is the boring factor. For someone to be “universally relatable,” they would have to appeal to everyone. Are we striving for everyone or just the majority? If we are striving for the majority, why? Why must my character be relatable for everyone? Fiction is meant to allow the reader to walk in someone else’s shoes, to live their lives for a few hundred pages. If I’m living my life on the page, why should I read it?

Even in some of the oddest places, we find there is a kernel of universality in every character. In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the graphic novel is about a little girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. To a modern audience, Marji seems like the furthest character from their own lives, yet the book is a best seller, but why? Because while Marji lives in a very different place and under very different circumstances than her Western audience, she is still a child with hopes and dreams who loves rock music and Michael Jackson. It’s this strand of universality that brings the audience to her. The same is true of Alexia in Soulless. She may appear emotionless due to her lack of a soul, but she prefers libraries to parties and struggles with her self-image and self-worth. Many girls (and guys) reading the novel immediately relate to her being an outsider.

How should we define universality with our characters? Should they be pants that the reader can slip into–blank slates that are nothing more than masks of archetypes–or should they have strains of the universal within their beings? In the same way that we make friends through discovering relatable aspects in other beings, should we do this for characters in works of fiction? In my mind, the answer is simple, characters are as human as we are, and as humans, they are complex beings with multiple facets that need to be explored. By pairing them down to make them “universal,” we destroy what makes them human and ultimately what makes them relatable.


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Writing

Elemental Characters

elemental_mandala_by_bioraka-d48t3cl
by bioraka on Deviant Art

Do you ever think of characters in terms of where they seem to naturally fall within the four elements?  It may seem odd to equate a character with earth, water, fire, or air, but it can help to maintain a theme throughout several works or to create cohesion of your character’s personality.

I’m one of those writers who tends to write, then sees the patterns forming within my writing and continues them.  In The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, I have several characters who represent elemental powers and this influences how they interact with their world.  It may make more sense to demonstrate how this happens with concrete examples. Continue reading “Elemental Characters”

Writing

What is Your Novel’s Sex?

I’m not sure many people think about the gender of their book while they are writing it, but when I began The Earl of Brass as an undergraduate, it crossed my mind.  While reading other steampunk novels, I was rather surprised by how the books seemed to either be very masculine (G.D. Falksen’s Blood in the Skies) or very feminine (Gail Carriger’s Soulless).  I wanted to write a book that was androgynous, that had no defining gender for itself or its audience.

As part of my research for writing The Earl of Brass, I read through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland in order to better understand Victorian and Edwardian adventure novels. There again, I found the gender gap.  In Conan Doyle’s novel, the men leave their women at home and go on an adventure full of dinosaurs and savages, and while Gilman infused her work with feminist ideals, it was very much an us-versus-them mentality with a muddled ending where the women and men fall in love and go back to America. Continue reading “What is Your Novel’s Sex?”