Wednesday, August 8, 2012

starting from scratch is hard

I love the characters I create. Once I put them to paper and get to know their likes, their dislikes, their little quirks, what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and what sets them off, I feel as though they are living, breathing people. When that happens they tend to take on a life of their own and then it becomes my job to not so much direct them as guide them, while trying to remember all the little details along the way (their eye color, the fact that they hate mashed potatoes, their fear of heights). The writing flows, the dialogue gets easier, and everything comes together with only the occasional snag here and there which I usually untangle by asking myself the question "how would THIS particular character solve the problem?" 

I feel confident when I write about characters I know. 

The opposite effect happens when I start a new book from scratch. 

All of a sudden I am filled with doubts. Is this character realistic? Is he/she someone readers will relate too? Should they be snarky? Funny? Silly? What are they afraid of? Who are they naturally drawn to? How do they interact with their parents? Their friends? The cute boy next door? My inner writing self starts to look a lot like Rachel...


And a lot of the time I just scrap the new book idea and all the characters along with it. But then once in a while... Once in a while a characters crawls in my head and sticks there. This happened with Winnie from After Ever and Lola from Pitch. Their personalities were so strong they shone through my self doubt and they all but put themselves on the page. When this occurs I know I have something worth writing about. Maybe even something worth finishing. 

On Monday this happened with my new, as of yet untitled project. I have been wanting to do some young adult contemporary fiction for a while with no ghosts, vampires, werewolves, or other paranormal creatures in sight. Unfortunately, the characters were not communicating.

Then Mia Woodrose came along. 

Since Mia popped in my head I've been writing almost non-stop, something that rarely happens to me (I'm a one page, check e-mail, facebook, goodreads type of person). Mia is different than any character I've written about before. She talks with a stutter. She's overweight and has huge self esteem issues. She isn't snarky like Winnie, or self sufficient like Lola. She isn't beautiful like the women from the Wedded Women Quartet. She cries a lot, and she gets bullied at school. She doesn't fit in with her family, and she is envious of her gorgeous, perfect younger sister. Basically, she's about as far from my dream character as I could possibly imagine. I like my heroines to be strong and independent. Mia is neither. But then again, that's what makes her real. No, she isn't that girl in your high school who gets all the boys and is impossibly perfect all the time. But she is that girl who, even though she sits in the front of the classroom, is always alone. The quiet one who doesn't quite fit in anywhere. The one you smile at in the hall because it's the right thing to do, but the one you would never actually hang out with.

I'm excited to see where Mia's story takes her. To see if she can overcome her self doubt and change her life for the better. To see if Jake Lawson, bad boy extraordinaire, actually really likes her, or if he's just using her to get to her sister Alice.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I'm only four chapters in, but I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go, which almost never happens. It's exciting and thrilling and a little scary. But I want to share the process with you, which is something I've never done before. So, without further adieu, here is the first page for your reading pleasure:

 The first time Jake Lawson spoke to me, I was crying underneath the bleachers of the high school football stadium. The game had just ended, and with it the revelry that had torn through the crisp September night.
The lights had dimmed. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs was fading. Only the faint whoosh whoosh whoosh of the janitor’s broom as he swept away the trash left by careless fans interrupted the call of the cicadas and the deep throaty murmurs of the bull frogs from the pond behind the football field.
I was not just crying, I was ugly crying; wheezing for breath between sobs, shoulders shaking, face puffier than usual crying. My sobs were so loud I didn’t hear the tell tale echo of footsteps on metal until it was too late, and Jake had dropped down between the bleachers to land in front of me in a crouch.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked bluntly. My breath caught as I saw who it was. Jake Lawson, notorious bad boy, womanizer, and all around hard ass, did not suffer fools lightly. And there was no greater fool than a seventeen year old girl crying her heart out under the bleachers because some boy called her fat.
“N-n-nothing,” I stammered, lifting my chin to stare at Jake from eyes that sparkled brightly with tears. Swiping clumsily at my runny nose, I sniffed back the snot that threatened to spill out while Jake made a sound of disgust and stepped back, leaning against one of the support beams.
His black leather jacket tightened around his chest as he raised his arms and cupped his hand behind his head. “Chubby Mia Woodrose,” he said with a sigh. “I should have known.”
Crossing my arms defensively over a chest that in now way, shape or form should have belonged to someone of my age, I lurched to my feet. “D-d-do not call me that.” Drawing wildly on what little self confidence I had left, I tried to sound tough. Jake just laughed.
“Ain’t that what those boys were calling you? Chubby. Fat. Ugly.” He said the words with ruthless precision, and I felt my stomach clench tighter with every slur that spilled from his lips.
“S-s-stop it!” I cried, hating when my voice broke, but unable to force the words out without an audible stammer. It had always been like that. Whenever I got too emotional her vocal chords refused to cooperate. My parents had dragged me to doctors, speech therapists, even a shrink – nothing had worked. My mother’s suggestion? Stop talking.            

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