Leftovers and Character Grave-Digging

This is an odd time of the year. It’s right after Christmas, right before New Year’s, and it feels like everything is leftovers.

You’re eating them. (If you’re anything like me. My fridge has never been fuller.) You’re still picking up small bits of wrapping paper off the floor (or stepping around them, if you’re a lazy teenager like me). You’re wearing each of your new shirts for the first time, and the lingering effects of the turkey (or, if you’re a vegetarian, also like me, the tofurky) make you prone to take more midday naps.

Besides the drowsiness, there’s another weird aftereffect of coming off the high of the holidays. There’s still that odd joy, that weird lightness in your heart, that’s unique to this time of the year. The air is still brisk and the jackets are still out. The tree is still up and your counter is still overflowing with the fruits of your grandma’s baking.

Well, the word ‘fruits’ would be decieving. There are twelve plates of chocolate on my counter, because my grandma accidentally tripled the recepie for my favorite chocolate of hers, a coconut and chocolate mixture aptly named Heavenly Candies.

Hey, I’m not complaining.

The anticipation is gone, but your joy is still there. To me it’s the time where I experience the most pure happiness than any other time of the year. Maybe it’s because I don’t have school (which allows me to dedicate more time to sleep, riding my horse, and writing), maybe it’s because I’m writing this on the crisp keys of my brand-new laptop, and maybe it’s just because there’s really no forced social interaction. At any rate, I’m practically gleeful. Ready to go caroling. Or something.

If Christmas is bliss, then this is the leftovers of that. And we’re back on topic with my title here.

So I suppose I should give an update on what I’ve been writing lately. There hasn’t been much time for actual noveling lately– Okay, no, that’s a lie. I haven’t have motivation to actually novel lately, but I have managed to get something done which I think is going to work out really well for me.

One of the main things I struggle with in my noveling is that I tend to write more plot-based, less character-based stories. This would be fine, but I spend so much effort sewing up plot holes and trying to figure out how to get them from Point A to Point B that my characters show up burned-out and weak.

So I decided to try something different. I had a few solid novel ideas for my next “Hey, this one’s gonna be great and yes I’m going to finish it and yes my family and friends can read it” book (it’s never turned out this way, yet), but I went a different route this time.

For my latest one, I didn’t start out with a plot. I started out with my characters.

I’m not sure what’s common, but I’m terrible at coming up with decent, flowing, character-suited names. I’ll surf Babynames.com for hours looking for just the perfect ones, jotting down my favorites, and comparing them. Once I spent almost all night compiling a list of possible names.

Last night, my internet was down, so I didn’t have the normal resources, and I wasn’t about to wake my grandma up at two in the morning to ask for her encyclopedia of baby names. So I did something either very genius or very stupid: I recycled names.

To be fair, here’s what I was thinking: My first three or four books are never going to see the light of a publishing office. They’re only 37k words at most. My plots are struggling, my characters are weak, and I’m learning a lot from every one of them. But they’re really not quality books. So, if those aren’t going to make it, can I borrow from them? Will anyone except my closest family and friends ever know I’ve already written about Aaliyah or Drake or Alexander? Probably not.

I didn’t, however, take the characters completely. Since I’m trying to improve the quality of my charies, using the same ones over and over would be moot. I’d never learn from my mistakes and get better. So I just stole their names and painstakingly constructed new identities for each of them.

Even appearance. I want an entirely new mental image of my characters. I made Aaliyah a dark brunette instead of a platinum blonde (and ditzy instead of confident), Trevor is a short kid with cropped dirty-blonde hair. (To be honest, he’s the only one I didn’t name-steal from my books. I was thinking Trevor Drift from the LXD. But I changed his appearance, too.) Drake is now the sporty one, and I scrapped Ekard because nobody in this book has disassociative identity disorder.

Well, I’ll hope. (See, Ekard is Drake backwards. In EI, my latest book, Ekard was just another one of Drake’s personalities. The kid was messed up.)

It feels almost like grave-digging, taking the bones of my old characters that are dead and gone and stripping them to recreate new people.

…I just creeped myself out. Frankenstein style.

Anyllama, that’s what I did. I started with character profiles, remade Aaliyah and Drake and Trevor and Alexander, and then tried to piece together their backstories.

The funny thing? It all clicked. Aaliyah and Trevor were complete opposites, and I could see Trevor’s reaction to her ditzy carelessness. Alexander and Drake, the two best friends turned enemies due to a social chain gone wrong. Jessica, the popular girl, Brynn, the hippie nerd (based off myself, admittedly), and Mitchell, the Drake-replacement gothic kid.

And when I was done, I wove them together. How could I make them interact? Where could sparks fly and conflict arise?

There, my friends and loyal peasants, lies the heart of my plot. Now I’ve shifted the focus to my characters, while still striving to keep the conflict in the plot. I’m only a few thousand words into this one, but I think this is really going to work out. I’m excited.

Now the problem is motivating myself to write instead of having a Psych marathon…. Willpower, Aloha. Willpower.

Then I think about the ever-dreamy James Roday and all that willpower goes crashing to the ground.

Just four or five episodes. Then I’ll write. Or something.


About Aloha

A teen writer and future world ruler. Llamas make me happy.
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13 Responses to Leftovers and Character Grave-Digging

  1. annanm says:

    … Your approach to novelling makes much more sense than mine. Mine is something along the lines of “Whoa, that was a weird dream last night. I wonder if I could turn it into a novel…” and then I just go bang on my keyboard for a couple weeks, get 80 pages in, decide it’s crap and press the mighty delete button.
    My current project I describe as a V for Vendetta meets One Day meets Phantom of the Opera-esque project. It makes a lot more sense in my head than it does on paper.

    • Aloha says:

      Wow, that sounds intense. My problem is that I get so many ideas, I’ll write 5k on one novel, then do 15k on another, half a page on something else and end up with nothing but a bunch of half-developed plots.

      My most recent project (besides the one I just started two days ago) is a mix between The Matrix, Maximum Ride, The Giver, and High School Musical.
      I only put the HSM part in there because it’s a bunch of teenagers who go to high school together…

      No singing, I promise.

      • annanm says:

        Oh yes, I’ll pull out ths method on occassion as well. Then I go back and read it later and revise the crap out of it. It gets to the point where my “little” revisions change the entire plot.

        As long as there isn’t singing, it sounds pretty cool.

      • Aloha says:

        See, I never have the patience to revise. I’m always just skipping ahead to new things, so kudos to you for sticking to your plots.

        Meh. If someone *else* told me their novel was a cross between High School Musical and The Matrix, I’d think they were insane. And this is me we’re talking about.

  2. Mercy says:

    What I do to make stories (Starquake is my first quote unquote “novel”) more character driven is to write in first person. It’s what works for me, but your way sounds better. I, too, have a problem with names. I have a strange obsession with http://www.behindthename.com
    Hey, can our new laptops be twins too? Codex and Stevie … XD
    (I don’t think Stevie likes your site very much. This is the third time I’ve tried to comment, and it keeps getting erased. )

    • Aloha says:

      Stevie’s probably just worried to venture into the unknown of the internet. Codex has had problems with this, too. I have to ease her into the WiFi, site by site. She normally feels comfortable with NaNoWriMo, but sometimes she gets a little finnicky when I’m checking my email.

      Of course they can be twins! =P Especially since we got our laptops on the same day… *high-fives*

      I’ll definitely have to try out that site. Thanks for the link ^.^

  3. Woohoo! I love how you do it πŸ™‚ I usually start with a personality. I know what I need them to do, I just totally go in depth. Once I get their personalities ready, so I’ll make a character that’s a guy and extremely outgoing and maybe a little bit ditzy. Then I’ll name him. I named him Jerome πŸ™‚ (which changed to Jarom) and then give him a last name. Then I’ll stick him in where I need him to go. T heir like puppets! I love them πŸ˜›

    • Aloha says:

      Same. It gives you a sense of power, to create people, worlds, and conflict, then kill off your people and round off the conflict.

      Or maybe that’s just me and my superiority complex.

  4. christicorbett says:

    I love the idea of Character grave digging πŸ™‚

    Christi Corbett

    • Aloha says:

      Yeah, I think it’ll work XP
      I’m only concerned that I’ll mention the phrase to someone “normal”– someone who doesn’t understand the difficulty of piecing together characters and layering plot arcs. They might think I’m crazier than I actually am, and then where would we be?

  5. Nia says:

    I adore writing character driven stuff. ^_^ I recycle characters a lot, it’s weird – Lilya started as an overly excited teenage sleuth, changed to a depressed runaway, a broken heroine, and now is a tortured supporting character.

    Ooh, gosh, I turned her from happy into tortured. O.O -Sobs-

    • Aloha says:

      XD That’s the cycle of a character, I agree.
      It’s really neat that you can do all that. It means she’s well-defined, if you can move her around like that.

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