Friday, March 6, 2015

Knowing Your Characters Intimately

“Don’t be afraid to try new things” is one of those pieces of advice that gets repeated so often, it’s practically a cliché by now. That said, it’s not necessarily bad advice. You’re never going to find me skydiving or even dying my hair a crazy color, but still, I try not to be resistant to some changes in my life. It’s probably good to shake things up a little every now and then, and you never know what the results are going to be.
For the longest time, everything I wrote was in third-person point of view, past tense. I mean everything, from pieces of flash fiction to full-length novels (to the fanfic I still occasionally write for fun *cough*). Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Like all the other tenses and POVs, it’s got its pros and cons. I guess you could say that it’s how I “learned” to write, so third-person past tense is where I always went. It was comfortable.
Then one day I came across a submission call for an anthology by a well-known editor. I really wanted to submit a story, but my first couple attempts just weren’t coming together for various reasons. Frustrated, I decided to throw everything out and start from scratch (yet again). Since nothing else had been working, I figured I might as well live on the wild side and try something completely different. I wrote something in first-person.
Long story short, I was happy with my final product, I sent it in, and it was accepted for the anthology. Of course I was thrilled about that bit of success, but I discovered something else: I liked writing in first-person. Who knew?
Again, there are pros and cons for both POVs. But when I first sat down to plot out the ideas for Elysium that had been bouncing around in my brain, I realized that the only possible way it would work out to my liking would be to write it in first-person. It simply had to be that way. I felt the emotional impact would be dulled if the story was told by a narrator instead of the characters themselves, and I wanted to really dig around inside their heads and expose all of their most intimate, uninhibited thoughts.
Along with pros and cons, writing a lengthier work in first-person definitely had its challenges. The POV alternates between April and Drew, the two main characters, and I needed to give them each a distinctive voice. Though both sensitive, introverted people, they arrive at their 1Night Stand with vastly different expectations and past experiences. As the characters grew, April turned out to be very analytical, apt to get lost in her introspection, while Drew developed a bit of a sarcastic streak. Despite all their “I” statements, it didn’t take long for them to come alive independent of each other.
And come alive they did. The story of Elysium itself revolves around virtual reality, where it’s easy to forget that even things the characters know are nothing more than an illusion or simulation aren’t real. In a way, writing in first-person allowed me to reach that level with April and Drew – as any author will tell you, sometimes we have to force ourselves to remember the characters we create don’t actually exist.
So today, I’m thrilled that Elysium has now officially been released, and I hope you enjoy delving deep into the minds of April and Drew as much as I did!

Elysium excerpt:
We sat in silence. It was the first time a client had asked me so many personal questions. On one hand, I worried about coming across as unprofessional, but on the other, it felt good to verbalize those thoughts for a change. Putting that aside, April hadn’t come to play psychiatrist with me. I had a job to do.
“Anything else before we get started?” I pushed off the edge of the desk and straightened.
She didn’t get up. “Do you ever go into your own virtual realities?”
“Actually, I don’t.” I ran a finger along the top of one of the screens. “First of all, it needs to be monitored from the outside. I can’t do both at the same time.”
“Got it.” She nodded. “What else?”
A clammy feeling crawled over me. “Nothing.”
“You said ‘first of all.’ That means there must be a second.”
She’d paid attention, I’d give her that. I tried to backtrack. “Forget it.”
Sliding her arm off the chair, she leaned forward, ginger hair spilling over her shoulders. “I want to know what I’m getting into. Tell me.” Face upturned, she stared at me and I struggled to breathe in a normal rhythm. “Please?”
Don’t say it, don’t admit to it, she doesn’t need to know…. Talking to her eased a little of the tension that had been twisting tighter and tighter over time. I ignored the voices telling me not to make a confession, but the words spilled out faster than I’d intended.
“With all the misery and heartache I see in the world, the temptation exists to disappear into a painless fantasy.” The chill spreading through me intensified. “I’m afraid I’d lose myself and never want to come out.”
April blinked her long lashes and straightened in the chair. “That’s one of the reasons I’m anxious about going in there.”

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