Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bring Out Your Characters!

by Deborah Wright
Twitter: @DeborahBWright

I thought I'd do something a little different in this post. This is an invitation to share something about one of your characters. Maybe it's backstory or something about their likes/dislikes or why they have a particular habit. It can be just a line or two or a longer scene, if you'd like.

I've been working on the new book and thought I knew my heroine's motivation. I was wrong. I assumed she'd started her journey because of a desire for revenge, but every time I tried to use that, it was like trying to stuff a big square peg into a tiny round hole—it just didn't fit. Finally, out of exasperation, I asked her why she left the relative safety of her home to venture out into the dangers of the outside world. This is what she told me:

    Hope’s Gran died the morning of the summer solstice. They cremated her that night on a bier set atop the celebration bonfire built by Hemming, the local hedge-witch. Hemming might not be much good at magic, being a better herb-healer than witch, but he had enough Power to turn the flames incandescent. The pyre burned white-hot and sparks shot twenty feet in the air, making everyone step back several paces to avoid being scorched. Hope thought Gran would have enjoyed the show.

     The following day she buried all but two handfuls of Gran's ashes in the shade of the Crooked Oak on the rise across from the farmhouse. Gran had loved that tree, and not just because that's where Grandpa Jerry was buried. She'd drag her rocker from the porch to sit beneath its branches of a summer eve and watch the sun slip behind Whistler Peak. She'd rock back and forth and say there was no place on earth she'd rather be. The cynical might claim that's because there wasn't much left of the world beyond their tiny valley tucked away in the Siskiyous, hidden from the worst of the Sundering. Hope preferred to believe Gran meant exactly what she said, Sundering or no.

     Early the next morning Hope packed water and a lunch and half of Gran's remaining ashes and set out to hike Whistler Peak. Her goal was the Outlook, a rocky outcrop a little over half-way up the mountain. The temperature rose steadily as the sun climbed the sky, leaving the brief coolness of the morning behind like a forgotten memory. Bees and other winged insects hummed around her as they zoomed through the trees searching for wildflowers, and small birds chirped and twittered overhead. Each step of her leather boots on the trail stirred puffs of dust which hung motionless in the heat before sinking back to earth. Sweat soaked the neck of her tank shirt, a sticky trickle working its way down between her shoulder blades. Hope ignored the heat and discomfort with the ease of long practice and kept walking.

     She'd lived in Mystic Valley all her life, as had five generations of Devlins before her, and she was as familiar with the mountain trails as she was with her own nose. As her climb grew steeper the dirt path gave way to rock, Valley Oaks yielded to Black Oaks and they to Douglas-fir, and the earthy fragrance of pine and mountain loam scented the air. Hope stopped for a moment at a turn in the trail and looked back over the Valley. She could make out the farmhouse and the Crooked Oak, but she wasn't high enough for what she'd come to do.

     She reached the Outlook an hour or so past noon and sat on a flat rock in the shade to eat her lunch. Two Red-tails circled high, gliding on the air currents, hunting for prey hiding in the alfalfa and wheat fields. On the eastern edge of the Valley, Jacob Root's cattle rested in the shade of the oaks, out of the blistering heat of the mid-day sun. Hope brushed the last crumbs of her sandwich onto the ground, a treat for the squirrels and chipmunks, and cradled the small container of Gran's ashes in her hands. It was time.

     "I could wish you'd kept your secret and never told either one of us, but I guess that doesn't matter now. I’ll find Kellan and bring him home. I promise."

     She stood at the edge of the Outlook and opened the container. "I followed your wishes. You're resting beside Grandpa, just where you wanted to be, but I know you loved the Valley, too. Watch over us, Gran." As she swung the container in a wide arc an unexpected breeze stirred the air and carried the ashes away, out over the Valley. Tears stung eyes she'd thought already cried out and she turned away to start the long trek south in search of her brother.

So, that's Hope's reason for leaving Mystic Valley (well, most of it, anyway). Now it's your turn to bring out your characters. I can't wait to meet them!


chanceofbooks said...

I love your lyrical description. I like Hope and all the secondary characters already! Is this a fantasy novel or western?

My heroine is giving me fits right now :) I know Hero's biggest fear, and I have a plan (evil author here) to make him face it. But Heroine's fear is a bit harder to find.

Hmmm. Let's check in with her and see if I can get to the bottom of it.

chanceofbooks said...

Alright. I asked Sadie was her biggest fear was, and she gave me this snippet. I may use part of it as later scene as I approach the black moment. Great blog Debbie.

"What are you so afraid of?"

Sadie tried to picture being stuck in Devil's Bay forever, in this tiny apartment, working for Fit4U, never getting a "real" job. It wouldn't be *terrible.* Afterall, she'd managed to scrap together this apartment and this life when everyone thought she'd fail. Again. She paid her bills, kept her job, and if, from time to time, she missed her old life, it was a dull ache. She'd didn't worry so much about failing anymore.

No, the problem was everyone else still assuming she was one bad day away from failing, from falling all the way back to Bad Sadie. She needed this job to prove that she was one more step away from Bad Sadie, that Sadie-Yes wasn't lurking around waiting for the chance to come out and play.

Once upon a time, she'd thought she could do that here. It was why she'd stayed when huge part of her just wanted to pick up, start fresh somewhere new and anonymous. She wanted to prove them all wrong. Some little naive part of her pictured people saying "we were wrong to doubt you." Or "Look how far you've come."

It wasn't ever going to happen. The only thing people would remember was how far she'd fallen.
Losing the job opportunity sucked, but what really sucked, what had her laying on her crappy couch with Gilmore Girl reruns on mute, was proving what she'd always known: she wasn't good enough.

Who she was, even when she *wasn't* bad Sadie, wasn't enough. The real Sadie, the one who was good with kids and who was responsible, was invisible. To everyone. And if the only one worth seeing was Bad Sadie, maybe she needed to stop fighting it.

Because she could stand being trapped here. What she couldn't stand was being invisible.

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Wonderful excerpt, Debbie!

Hey, Annabeth/Bethany! Interesting fear for Sadie. Subtle but powerful, which should make her internal conflict even more messy. The stuff of great stories!

Here's an excerpt from book #4 of my LEGACY series when the heroine is facing the one of the antagonists. He could easily kill her and, as she faces that realization, what's she wants also becomes clear.
"Never trust a guy." Swaggerty looked around as if just realizing he intended to be somewhere else. "Give me your shoes."
Layla looked down at the denim blue boots she had bought on the return trip to Halo. The ones the same color as Pop's eyes. These boots had been through Halo's explosions and Pop's guarded welcome and so many other experiences since she had come home.
Yes, Halo was home. And she wanted to stay here. Wanted Pop to look at her with pride shining in his blue eyes.
Eyes the same color as the boots Swaggerty demanded. "Both of them?"
Swaggerty's laughter roared across the meadow. "You got more balls than brains, Missy Reporter. I like that."
He held out a hand. "One boot it is. And your car keys."
Balancing with one hand on the car, Layla slipped off her left boot and handed it to the beast-man.
"I'd tell you not to follow, but know it wouldn't do any good. But with only one boot and no car keys, that should slow you down enough you won't get in the way of what I have planned."
Swaggerty walked away a few steps, then turned and looked back at Layla. "Use an old picture and be sure to spell my name right."

This scene also reveals some of the antagonist's motivation.

Debbie, can't wait for this book to be published so I can read the rest of it!

Deborah Wright said...

Thanks Annabeth! I enjoyed your snippet about Sadie--very intriguing. I'm looking forward to reading more about her.

Deborah Wright said...

oooh, Genene, I love your scene. I can't wait to read these books!

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Thanks, Debbie! I love how the characters in this series are unveiling quirks of themselves as the stories unfold.

Meggan McQuaid said...

My current heroine, Sadie (Bethany, you have such good taste in names!), is in a new town to make a fresh start, to get away from the city where everything and everyone reminds her of her degenerate, thankfully dead, father and how worthless it makes her feel when she remembers that she was connected to him.

But there are also subtleties to her motivations that she isn't fully aware of. She's hoping to prove, in 1903, that women can succeed in a man's trade. She's hoping to prove to herself that she can run a household when given a fair chance. She's looking for a place to belong, a sense of peace. And she wants a family, a husband, children, a way to carry on her mother's sweet memory, all things that she won't even admit to herself.

I have a character sheet that I use, developed out of three other sources (I just shared it on my blog http://megganmcquaid.wordpress.com/), and I find it very useful, especially when a character is hiding something important from me. Feel free to use it, everyone.

Thanks for the great post Debbie!