Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Character Development by Heather Kuehl
When I sit down to write, I have to think of a lot of things; setting, plot, and most importantly, characters. A story is nothing without believable characters that the reader can relate to. They have to have faults, back-story, things that will keep the reader either rooting for them or hoping for their demise. I wrote the original draft of Promises to Keep back in 1999. Back then I was just learning how to write stories, and the novella I produced was interesting to say the least. I let it sit until 2006, when National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) helped me give it the jumpstart it deserved. It wasn’t the plot that was lacking, it was the characters. Characters can make or break a story, and in the case of my original draft it was killing them. I needed to tweak them, and I’ll explain who they were, what I changed, and how it made them better.
Originally set in a high fantasy world, Starlette started out as a shapeshifter who came home to find her entire family dead and went to seek revenge from Drea. Starlette, at the time, was too nice to do the wicked deed that she had set out to do. With that character, the story went no where. Yeah, her family was dead but she grew up a very humble life where she reacted to their deaths by a lot of crying. I needed something more to turn her into the vengeful woman she is now. So I kept her family alive, having her father kidnapped by Dreashae instead of being killed by her. Did you notice the Dark Lady’s name change? More on that in a minute.
Starlette needed a goal, and vengeance didn’t look very good on her. However, it looked fantastic on Sivad. In the original draft, Sivad was a sorcerer who also lost his entire family to Drea. He wanted revenge and, for some reason still unknown to me, teamed up with Starlette to get it. Because I didn’t know his reasons, and in the original draft it was his idea to go with Star, I decided to flip it. In Promises to Keep Starlette implores his help, subtly threatening to hurt him if he doesn’t. Now there’s a way to motivate a character to go on this journey. He was also demoted from being a sorcerer to just plain human. His powers had never gotten them anywhere so why should he have them? I hate filler, and his powers were just that. Good bye sorcery. Which left a problem with Drea.
In my original draft her name was Drea, but in Promises to Keep it evolved into Dreashae. Drea wanted to rid the world of sorcerers and shapeshifters, hence killing both Sivad and Star’s families. Why? Who knows, it just seemed like a fun way to get a story going. And near the end, because I realized that she wasn’t the bad guy I wanted her to be, I had her go crazy and develop a second personality. It was all sorts of bad. Her character was the one that needed a facelift the most. I didn’t want a sympathetic bad guy, so giving a back story about how a sorcerer and a shapeshifter had done her wrong was not going to happen. So I thought long and hard about it and decided to have her kidnap Starlette’s father out of vengeance. In the first chapter the reader learns why. In the first NaNoWriMo draft of Promises she was a faerie noble, but I didn’t like how that worked in her world so I changed her into a sorceress. Now she had power; power corrupts making her into a believable bad guy. With so much about her changing I didn’t feel like she was just Drea anymore. She seemed more than that, so I added the –shae at the end of her name. Dreashae seemed more appropriate for a powerful sorceress.
While so much changed, a lot stayed the same too. Dragonsclan is almost identical to my original draft. I tweaked it so that Star is right in the middle of everything, as is appropriate when a story is in first person.
With every change I made, the story got better. It’s something that a writer needs to learn early on; Don’t get attached to your first, or even your second, drafts. Changes will have to be made and many times it’s for the better. Had I never fixed Promises to Keep, then it would have never seen the light of day. Which would have been a shame, believe me.
Promises to Keep is available now from Eternal Press.