Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sky Diving, Eating Pumpkin Cupcakes for Breakfast, And Other Things You Might Not Do But Your Characters Should

Okay, so admittedly, I have eaten pumpkin cupcakes for breakfast. Really, how are they that different from a donut? Or a muffin? Everyone knows muffins are just ugly cupcakes anyway. But, there are plenty of things I don't do because, truthfully, I'm not a hugely adventurous sort. I have great admiration for those that do, regularly branching free, fearless, from their comfort zones and launching themselves into new experiences.

There is no better place to take chances and live the life you've only wished you had the courage, means or resources to live than through your characters. While we search for universal truths when writing so that people can relate to our characters, it's also that special spike of a unique experience or a quirky trait that can transport us from our realities into another world. Not to mention, it's just plain fun to write.

Another great reason to write characters that are not flat (everyone does laundry, takes a walk now and then, goes on the occasional trip, whether it be to the Bahamas or Grandma's) is because it gives you a great chance to dive in and research. You can drive across country nowadays without ever leaving your chair via Google Earth and numerous websites. Your characters can bungee jump, fly on trapezes, climb Mt. Everest, run a marathon, etc., and finding out the terrain and what you can expect is also all at your fingertips. And best of all, it might inspire YOU to move out of your comfort zone and try something new yourself.

A great example of writing about something with total authenticity despite it not being an actual part of your life is C.J. Omolulu's amazing YA novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. The novel is about a young girl forced to hide her mother's secret hoarding habit, until one day she comes home to find her mother dead and has to decide how far she'll go to keep the family secrets safe. I asked C.J. about her book at SCBWI LA this summer because I was so blown away by it, and she shared with me that neither she nor anyone else in her inner circle is a hoarder; she culled all that information purely from people sharing their stories and doing extensive research. It shows the power of how one can write so convincingly about something they have not experienced, and helps remove the stigma that you can only write what you have experienced firsthand. (P.S. If you haven't read this amazing novel yet - buy it today! It's six kinds of awesome!)

Putting your character in a life polar to your own makes the writing more fun and challenging. What reader wants to escape from their life by just simply reading about a character just moving through their day to day with no depth or dimension? We all long for that extra something something that allows us to tune everything else out and get lost. This doesn't mean if you're writing a contemporary YA novel that your character shouldn't be dealing with traditional high school problems and issues. But look for that spike - what if they had to deal with vampires too? (Think Twilight) Or ghosts of dead cheerleaders that only they can see/hear? (Think The Ghost and the Goth) or even something like THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY, by Jenny Han, where the main character must choose between the love of two brothers, but the setting plays as much of a role as the characters do, and you are swept up in the romance and the eloquence of her words.

So whether you're writing late at night because you're working or shuttling kids or whatever during the day, or you have the luxury of devoting yourself full time to your craft, get out and live a little. Take chances. Do new things. And know that it's all risk-free, because your characters are doing all the work! Besides, the worst that happens is you write a killer story, right? Now get writing!


CJ Omololu said...

Thanks for the shout out! Glad I could help even a little bit.

Robin Reul said...

My pleasure! I think my jaw hit the floor when you told me that this summer. So well written and researched. And thanks to this book, I enjoyed a brief addiction to A&E's "Hoarders," thank you very much. The story was truly haunting. (In a good way!)

Kristen Evey said...

Your posts are so inspirational. They make me want to go off and write (which I think is the point... right?) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Key point: Write what you know is a good start, but don't let that limit you. My husband has been telling me that for years as I have struggled writing a memoir. Now that I am gearing up to write a piece of fiction for NaNoWriMo next month, the freedom is thrilling!

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