Running Wild — when characters misbehave

HBedit2
Post-it notes! Trying to organize my characters…

The other day I was chatting to my daughter about my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I have this headcanon about one of my characters.

Daughter: You DO realize you’re the author?

Daughter: And anything you decide about a character is actually canon?

It made me laugh at the time. But that little snippet of conversation stayed with me. It suggests that writers are in charge of their characters and keep them on a tight leash at all moments. Which… isn’t really the case at all. How often do we read online posts where authors jokingly complain that their characters won’t do what they’re told? That they downright refuse the plans their creators had for them, sometimes with a big Hell No? WHY ARE ALL THESE CHARACTERS RUNNING AMOK?!!

amok.gif

I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m a plotter. I like my outlines, and knowing where my story is heading. Of course, I leave room for detours and surprises, but my plots tend to mostly behave. When it comes to characters, however, I like to wing it. I start out with a rough idea of what they look like and how they act, but their personalities develop as I write my first draft. That leaves a lot of space for ‘misbehavior’.

Planned romances sometimes go in the opposite direction, while others turn up where I least expect them. ‘Strong’ characters break down in tears that make sense when I write them but were nowhere in my original outline, bullies turn vulnerable, and quiet throwaway characters stand up and demand page space, taking charge. It’s a wonderful crazy voyage of discovery, where I’m surprised over and over again, and often it isn’t until I reach those final pages that I truly know who my characters are.

Going back to that conversation with my daughter, I think I’ll stick to calling my character theories ‘headcanons’. Because once I get to writing them down, who knows what my characters will have to say about them? And that’s just part of the fun.

Writing Boys, Part 2

*contains mild spoilers for Heart Blade and Night Blade*

IMG-1858
Some of my boys: Alex, Ash, and Ben, art by Corinna Marie

There are a LOT of articles and blog posts floating around out there at the moment about how to write great female characters. This is clearly an important discussion: YA fiction has a lot of amazing ladies, but otherwise female representation in science fiction and fantasy is…not always great.

The first two books in my urban fantasy Blade Hunt Chronicles series, Heart Blade and Night Blade, have a lot of strong female characters. I have warriors, and leaders, and healers, and yes, even villains. I have women who rule with their heart, women who use their brains, and women who depend on sheer grit and determination. They have different sexualities, different backgrounds, and a variety of motivations. I was pretty happy with my ladies as I wrote them, and I like the way they turned out at the end of the process.

That left the male characters. I was determined to do a good job on my boys, and try and give them the same nuances I gave my ladies. This meant taking them to dark places sometimes, or throwing them into the emotional deep end.

One of my main characters, Ash, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. No wonder, poor lad: his mother was killed in front of him when he was a young teen, and that led him to question the path his father set out for him. By Book 2, he’s having recurring nightmares, and carrying a lot of anger to go with that self-doubt. With Ash, I wanted to show readers that our book heroes are also allowed to be insecure about their place in the world, to crumble and break down at times, and just be a little fragile despite broad shoulders and a sword in their hands.

His father, Deacon, is dealing with the distance he allowed to grow between him and his son, and the feeling that he’s let his child down by not being there for him. He’s doing his best to bridge the gap, but this means that Deacon has been forced to rethink his own path in life and make friends in unlikely places. Deacon (and Ash) are descendants of angels, brought up as warriors and protectors. So Deacon’s unlikely friendship with half-demon Camille is emblematic of the sort of changes Deacon goes through.

Alex is probably one of my least complex male characters so far, even though he’s an almost-1000-year-old vampire. Alex is a leader with a cause, a former knight of the Crusades who took a vow never to drink human blood and is currently a Catholic monk, although he certainly wasn’t always celibate. I have plans for Alex for Book 3, though, and hope to dive into some of his backstory and his own internal struggles. No one lives 1000 years without a heck of a lot of baggage!

Ben is my new guy, who only joined my cast of characters in Book 2. Ben is one of my favorites; he’s a witch and an outcast, with a forbidden romance to top that off. He’s been banned from seeing his love — a witch from a powerful coven — in part because his boyfriend Gabriel is expected, as heir to his line, to carry on his family’s blood legacy by marrying a woman and having children. But also because Ben was punished for his parents’ crimes and is persona non grata in witch society, even though he was innocent and barely thirteen at the time. Ben is a mess of insecurity and low self-esteem, despite his amazing magical powers, but his heart is in the right place: he’ll always do the right thing no matter how hard it is.

I have a favorite bad guy, too. Half-demon Jude Raven is a bit of a bastard, really, but I love writing him. His bottom line is ‘how will this benefit me’, and he’s a sneaky, devious, cold-hearted genius. But what I like about him is exactly his utter selfishness. He can do good things, but only if they’re more useful than the bad things. He’ll analyze a situation and find the best way out of it — for himself. He’s got big choices to make in Book 3 and Book 4, and I can’t wait to see how I’m going to make him handle them while still remaining Jude.

There are plenty of good male characters around in fiction; my favorites are the well-layered ones who give us something to think about. If you’d like to read my thoughts on some of my favorite YA boys, check out my original Writing Boys post. And here’s the counterpart, Writing Girls.

Character Intro: Meet Finn

Over the past week, I’ve introduced some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. Here’s the last one! I hope you’ve enjoyed the lovely artwork by Corinna Marie. (Used with permission.) Also, check out the ones Corinna made for Book 1, HEART BLADE, here.

FINN ELMSON

finn
Finn by Corinna Marie

Finn Elmson is a pixie and a member of the Guild of Saint Peter. Always ready with a wink and a joke, Finn is also incredibly resourceful, and has wriggled out of many a sticky situation thanks to his sharp mind and even sharper teeth. He’s a valuable ally, and the Guild was lucky to recruit him.

Buy Night Blade.

Add to GoodReads.

 

nightblade_front

Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? I’ll be randomly drawing three lucky names from my mailing list to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.

Character Intro: Meet Lix

It’s character intro week! I’ll be introducing some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The lovely artwork is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

ANGELICA REIS

lix
Lix by Corinna Marie

Angelica Reis has been leading her small band of thieves since her early teens. The black sheep of the Reis witch clan has a knack for crime, and an iron grip on her crewmates. Don’t even think of stabbing Lix in the back: she has a talent for potions and can be absolutely ruthless when it comes to getting her way.

Buy Night Blade.

Add to GoodReads.

nightblade_front

Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? Once character intro week is over, three lucky names from my mailing list will be drawn randomly to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.

Character Intro: Meet Ben

It’s character intro week! I’ll be introducing some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The lovely artwork is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

BENJAMIN KELLEY

ben
Ben by Corinna Marie

Benjamin Kelley has been surviving on his own since he was thirteen, when his witch parents were executed for treason against their own coven. It’s been a grim sort of life, stealing for a living, but now that Ben’s turned eighteen it’s time to turn over a new leaf and try to keep things legal. If only his former crew would let him go…

Buy Night Blade.

Add to GoodReads.

nightblade_front

Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? Once character intro week is over, three lucky names from my mailing list will be drawn randomly to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.

Character Intro: Meet Raze

It’s character intro week! Over the next few days I’ll be introducing some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The lovely artwork is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

ROSA PIETROWICZ

raze
Raze by Corinna Marie

Rosa Pietrowicz, known as Raze, is the seventeen-year-old orphaned daughter of a witch and a werewolf. She was hidden away as a baby by the Guild of Saint Peter for safekeeping – except Raze has never been one to enjoy playing it safe. Climbing walls to sneak out at night? Now, that’s more Raze’s speed.

Buy Night Blade.

Add to GoodReads.

 

nightblade_front

Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? Once character intro week is over, three lucky names from my mailing list will be drawn randomly to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.

Taboo Or Not To Taboo

A guest post by Jo Zebedee, author of Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau, Abendau’s Legacy, Inish Carraig, and the brand new dark fantasy release, Waters and the Wild.

waters

When I started my first book – which eventually became Abendau’s Heir – I had nothing more in mind than writing something that had been floating around my head for a number of decades. What I intended was to confront the concept of the ‘chosen’ one and challenge it. Which meant the poor main character had to go through an ordeal. That ordeal turned out to be a lengthy torture regime, including a rape.

Now, in genre novels rape is the great taboo. It is often used for weak plot reasons. It brings about accusations of gratuitousness quicker than practically any other trope. And, to add to the fun, torture isn’t that far behind it… And all in a debut novel….

I’ve often asked myself if I would have the guts to write something just as hard hitting as Abendau again. If I’d have known then what I know now (that many people would find the book too dark, that it might define me as the dark little bunny in the writing group), would I do it again?

On the face of it, Waters and the Wild, my latest book, is a million miles from Abendau. There is no torture. There is no rape. The darkness within it is subtler and less confrontational to the reader. But there are still themes within it which will challenge a reader and which were not the easiest to write about.

Firstly, the book has a main character dealing with the day-to-day reality of coping with a mental illness. Whether she is mentally ill or whether fairies really do speak to her is largely irrelevant – because, whichever it is, it causes compulsions in her, bring anxiety and fear, causes her confusion and disassociation. That Amy has had these thoughts, or has heard these voices, since she was a child, is redolent of our modern era – where teenage mental health problems are growing and our services (where I am, at least) are stretched and support is often patchy.

But the thing that Waters and the Wild does (which has been picked up in even the earliest reviews) is question what that does to a wider family. The repercussions of mental health difficulties – not just Amy’s – reverberate through the book. No one is unscathed by it – because we are not islands and when someone we love struggles, we can’t just close ourselves off from it.

Up to this point, I’m on safe ground, I feel. I researched. I got feedback from people who were more knowledgeable than me and acted on it. I researched some more. I drew on whatever personal knowledge I have, or have been privileged enough for people to share. As with Abendau, I’m confident the themes that have arisen have been dealt with carefully, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

That’s before the book is released, however. Once it goes out as a published book, I no longer own that book.

With Abendau, I hoped I’d be recognised for writing a thoughtful trilogy about a character’s journey. Mostly, though, I’m known as the lady who writes great torture. Those 3000 or so words in a sea of 250,000 are what define the trilogy. With Inish Carraig, my Belfast-based alien invasion novel, I’ve had to come to terms with people reacting to a reflected Belfast in the book. It’s not why I wrote it, but that’s okay. It’s what resonates with so many readers.

What, then, for Waters and the Wild? I hope the dark mythology will stand out but, looking at early feedback, the character interactions in all their quirked and strained ways, are coming to the fore. The mental illness themes, too, are resonating. We’ll see where they all settle down and what the book’s identity becomes.

What I do know is that, for me, it’s only by writing challenging themes that a multi faceted book emerges. Which I suppose answers my question. Would I tackle hard themes again, knowing they might cause discomfort, and put some readers off?

Yes. Yes I would. Because I should be honest to the story, the characters and their theme. And I hope readers will find that I have been.

***

You can buy Waters and the Wild here.

Add Waters and the Wild on Goodreads.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jozebwrites, and check out her wonderful blog posts on writing and publishing at her website, www.jozebedee.com