Tag Archives: young adult

Getting Into Your Characters

Have you ever faced the age old issue of ‘what comes first?’

No, not the chicken or the egg … but the book and the film!

Now, obviously, in 99% of cases, the film will be based on a book.  But I’m not talking release dates.  I’m talking about which came first for YOU!  Did you watch the movie Twilight, and then decide to read the books, to then have Edward Cullen forever depicted as Robert Pattinson in your mind?  Or did you conjure your own wolves and vampires, only to be disappointed the moment you took your seat in the audience? It’s a particularly pertinent question for the YA world, with books like ‘The Hunger Games‘ and ‘City of Bones’ being made into films, and the actors portraying famous roles being announced months prior to the films, as if to ask ‘did we get it right?’.

As an author, characterisation, and how detailed the physical attributes you give a character can be a difficult tightrope to tread.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer to read the book before I see the film.  I LOVE to conjure characters in my mind.  To attribute the leading man with unmentioned details which I’m personally attracted, to see aspects of myself in the lead female, if she’s likeable, or perhaps characteristics of people I dislike, in her if she’s not!  My mind becomes a playground, the words on the page simply forming the framework for my games.  It’s my imagination which fills the gaps, populating a world which has been carefully crafted not just to suck me in, but to keep me there by allowing me to combine my own imagination with the authors.

If only we could take a snapshot into the mind of a reader.  A hundred readers.  To see what Hermione Granger, or Matilda, or Prince Caspian ever looked like before the characters appeared on the silver screen.

I say snapshot, because my memory is visual.  I read a book as a series of pictures, which flash through my mind as my eyes see the words.  But not every reader attributes a physical image to a person.  He or she might instead associate a smell, or a sound, or even just a sense.

And because of all that … because I know as a reader I like to colour in the lines, rather than be presented with a fully completed paint by numbers, I’ve noticed something in my writing.

I very seldom describe my characters in great detail!

The reason I’ve even touched upon this topic, is that last month I was very lucky to win Elli Writes’ June writing competition, and my prize is a portrait of one of my characters!  An amazing prize for an author whose artistic talents at school lay more in sketching still life drawings of apples, than bringing a vivid character to life.

But the prize begged the question – which character should I choose?

I’ve now completed three novels, and have the start of three other novels on the go.  That’s seven books worth of characters.  Seven books worth of people, who in my mind are as vivid as the day, and yet, who on paper, I have always been reticent to describe in too much detail.

But I’m not a lazy author.  I just want to give the reader a sense of the character.  A vague physical outline, which hopefully the emotions, and dialogue, and situations will allow the reader to colour with his or her own ideas.

Interestingly, if I squeeze my eyes shut and try to describe the snapshots in my head, I can see figures.  I can see scenes, and situations.  But the people in those scenes are fixed like mannequins, their faces indistinct.  And yet I feel like I know these characters inside out.  I mean, after all, I created them.  I understand their fears, their passions, their ideas.  They are my friends …. My favourite people.  Neat combinations of reality and fiction, some of them spliced together from people I know, others simply conjured out of necessity or situation.

And yet, for me, they’re all faceless!  As if, as an author this time, rather than a reader, I was hoping the readers themselves would fill in the gaps, and see the face of Ellody Rose, or Felicity Firestone for themselves.

So, how exactly do I choose a character for my prize?  How do I tell Liz, the editor of Elli Writes, how to draw a person who for me has no face, just a mass of emotions, decisions, and reactions?

The answer is, I didn’t.

Because in all of my books, it turns out there is always at least one character who has a face!  And these characters always tend to be male!!!

No, they’re not my ideal men, or physical embodiments of my ex boyfriends!  And no, they’re not film stars, or pin-ups  … (Though it is sometimes quite a cool game to play, coming up with who would play your lead men in the movie of your book!)

No, interestingly, the characters who I have the most clear visual impressions of, are the ones who are the most guarded.  The ones who share little with the reader, and likewise with me.  The ones I don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.  The two-timing lady player.  The emo/punk misunderstood Dream Navigator, who spends his days lashing out at those around him ….

(I won’t tell you too much more about those characters, as I don’t want to spoil it for any of you who have been reading the excerpts of Flicker and The Dream Navigator on the blog)

But what I will tell you, is that I’ve made a decision who I would love Liz to draw for me …

In The Dream Navigator there’s a character called Raye.  He’s dark, and perplexing, and only begins to open up towards the very end of the book.  But from Day One, I had the most vivid image of him.  A Korean Adam Lambert.  His hair blue black, his nails painted with black varnish, and his eyes ringed with kohl.

He fascinates me, because I don’t know or understand him, and so writing about him proved both frustrating, and really exciting.  In my head, he was the most visually distinct, and yet the hardest for me to understand!

And so now I will be handing over the gauntlet to Elli Writes 🙂 Will she understand him any better than me?  Will she be able to turn my words into a picture, and see the same boy I see in my mind every time I flick through my manuscript?

Or will she be waiting for the movie (God I really hope some day I write a movie!!!!), to see the actor who gets cast as Raye?

What do you see when you read a book?  Is it different when you’re writing?  Do your characters resemble real life people?  Do you prefer to watch a film before you read the book?  Or would you rather have your own character in your mind, and then shun the director’s presentation of that person?

As ever, please let me know what you think, either in the comments box below, or on Twitter.

C-C xxx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

The Author, The Role Model

Role models is a topic particularly close to my heart.

In my life away from the written word, I’ve been a Brownie Leader for over half my life, and have always felt passionately that children need good role models.  In fact, I felt so passionately about it that I studied Role Models in the Media as part of my Masters Degree, and for some time considered pursuing a career as a children’s television presenter in order to be a role model to younger generations.

But a Young Adult fiction writer, the topic of being a role model is a little more complicated than it is as a Brownie Leader, or kids TV presenter.

As I discussed in my article ‘Sex and Swearing’  teenage readers don’t need to be patronised.  Fiction shouldn’t simply be a guise to project your beliefs on teenagers.  It’s important to know your audience, and write at a level they understand.  Characters should be believable, and their experiences relatable with.

The author must tread a tightrope, because teenagers aren’t reading fiction to hear the amplified views of their parents, or conservative fundamentalists, and yet, as an adult talking to teenagers through her writing, there is a need for some propriety, sensitivity, and an understanding of what is really necessary to the story.

The thing to remember is that Young Adults have minds of their own!  By presenting them with a story, you are not presenting them with a definitive answer, but instead with food for thought.  Ideas, situations and tales for them to process.  Characters for them to dissect, whether consciously or unconsciously, and thus models for them to follow, question and learn from.

Because the interesting part about being an author is that you have the power to create role models, but you also have the power to create anti-role models, and sometimes, if you have a point to make, this is the best way of presenting the issue at question to readers.  Going back to the idea of sex in YA novels, as mentioned in ‘Sex and Swearing’, if you really feel strongly about promiscuity and experimentation in teenagers (please note I’m talking about 17+ year olds, NOT 13 year olds!) then perhaps the best way to combat the issue is by showing a character involved in an ill thought-out one night stand, and touching on the repercussions, yet allowing the reader to make his own judgments, as opposed to only writing about teenagers who are tee-total, God-forsaking, virgins until marriage? (Twilight rant over!!)

Moving on from this discussion of role models and teenage progression into adulthood, a fellow author brought up an interesting issue earlier this week.  She had been running regular writing classes at a local youth club, only for the club to decide that writing and reading didn’t fit with the club’s important focus upon health and fitness.

The problem I have with this, is that it suggests that literature is completely at odds with fitness, exercise and the outdoors.  However in my experience, literature has been anything but that!  And I’m not just talking about reading a book when you’re on the machines in the gym (an act I do with such frequency, I should probably really invest in a Kindle!).

As an author, you present scenarios.  And whilst some of those scenarios may simply cause the reader to contemplate, others will encourage the reader to actively try something out … (and no, conservative cynics, I’m not talking about underage sex 😉 ).

When I was a child, I grew up on Enid Blyton.  Now over the years, her work has faced some controversy, with conspiracy theories that her use of golliwog dolls as characters in her books fostered racism in readers.  But, as if to illustrate the fact that children are not influenced by every single thing they read (or perhaps just to illustrate the fact that most children didn’t even realise a golliwog had anything to do with skin colour?), I didn’t emerge from years of reading Famous Five and Secret Seven as a racist!  I grew up to be a teenager, and then an adult, with a great thirst for adventure.  Because that was what the books were full of  – adventures and the outdoors!  I was fascinated by a world where people slept on heather bushes (which in reality is nowhere near as comfortable as she made it sound!), rowed across lakes and seas, and spent every spare second in the outside world.  And whilst the reader in me wanted to curl up in a chair and never put the books down, the adventurer who those stories conjured, inspired me to head out into the outside world and start out on adventures of my own.

I’m not saying that Enid Blyton is the sole reason I’ve spent most of my life travelling the world and seeking out adventures, but she definitely played an early part in things.

I suppose THIS is where I see the cross-over of being an author and a role-model.  Not to lecture kids about sex, and swearing and all the other things they hear enough lectures about in life, but to show them what the world has to offer, and inspire them to go out and try those things.

I might love to write, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend my life sitting behind a desk, and I share my time between all my passions – writing, reading, sports, fitness, travel, socialising etc …  And as long as characters have well-rounded lives, and are challenged with adventures that the readers themselves want to not only follow, but also take part in, then those readers will go on to have their own adventures.

Yes, children can be impressionable, but don’t underestimate them.  They have their own opinions and thought processes.  So feed them with ideas.  Show them what the world has to offer, and hopefully your characters will become their role models.  Not by preaching, but by inspiring!

Let me know what you think!

C-C xx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing