Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adding more characters to my WIP

I've been blogging about adding new characters to my work-in-progress, Through Charlotte's Eyes, so I thought I'd start a discussion about this very topic. Have you ever written a draft, only to realize that you need to add a character? Combine a couple characters? Or remove a character entirely?

I'm currently working on draft 3.5 (I call it this because I've rewritten/revised the first half of my novel more than I have the second half), and the idea of adding new characters seems a bit overwhelming. But then I think about how the novel will progress with these new characters and how these characters will influence the main characters, and it seems a tad less daunting.

Not only that, but as I revise my current draft, I notice scenes with plot holes that are filled perfectly by these new characters, as if I'd left a space for them at the dinner table and I was just waiting for them to arrive.

As of right now, I'm adding two characters in, each of whom play a pretty hefty role, along with a handful of minor characters.

One of the new characters is Leonoor, a girl from the States who is studying abroad in Paris. She runs into Anne a few times before they become friends. I'm still fleshing out her character's back story, but so far she's looking to be the antithesis of Anne's best friend from home. She's intelligent, driven, and always on the lookout to try something new. Unlike Anne's best friend, she knows how to take care of herself.

The second new character plays a large part in Charlotte's life. He is Aunt Bretteville's protector, who keeps track of the family's finances. But, unlike many people in Caen, he shares Charlotte's moderate views: he wants a revolution, but a peaceful one, and he doesn't believe in the authority of the king. While Charlotte never intends to marry, she finds a companion in Jacques [tentative name that will definitely be changed] that is nothing like the relationships she has with any other men in her life.

Biographies dispute whether or not such a figure actually existed in Charlotte's life, but as I write her story and the reasons for why she decided to murder Marat, it has become clear that Charlotte needed someone to talk to about what she wanted for France and why. Plus, her relationship to him adds an entirely new dimension to why she leaves for Paris in the first place.

As these characters develop and play larger roles in the lives of my main characters, my novel really feels like it's coming together the way I envision it. It's one step closer, and that's a great feeling.

I'm still not sure how I'm going to work on adding these characters in. Do I start from the beginning and work my way towards the end? But that means revising Chapters 1 through 11 again, without having touched Chapters 12 through 30. (I have the nagging feeling that I keep ignoring the last half of my novel, for good reason).

Or, do I add the characters in as I continue revising/rewriting the last half of the novel? But what if they change dramatically based on how they're introduced in the first half? Maybe, for now, I'll mark the spots where they'll play a large role and then go back? Then again, I worry, that will make the story too stilted. Ah, the decisions! I'm thinking I just have to suck it up and start revisions from the beginning... again.

Now, your turn! Have you ever finished a draft, only to realize that some of your characters needed to change in drastic ways? Have you added new characters? How have you gone about putting the characters into your next draft? Comment below!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What I Need to Do

I keep saying that there's "stuff" I need to do to my novel before it's *ready*, but I haven't said what that "stuff" is really. So, here's a rundown, starting with comments I received on my final thesis from my adviser and preceptor at The University of Chicago.

The parallel story lines
Charlotte's storyline in 1792/1793 is much stronger and focused than Anne's in 2005. I'm creating more of a narrative drive for Anne's story by first focusing on what motivates her and why. But these story lines are now merging more than they ever before, because...

Anne and Charlotte: POV
All of my drafts at UofC were in 3rd person. Anne and Charlotte were two distinct characters, even though Anne travelled into the past and saw what Charlotte saw (somewhat like Being John Malkovich) during the French Revolution. The problem that my advisers saw - and which irritated me as I wrote - was that Anne seemed to disappear behind Charlotte as the novel progressed. I've been changing the entire novel from 3rd to 1st, making Anne the central character. In this way, the characters of Anne and Charlotte have merged, and Anne is deciding whether she should follow what she knows of history or forever change what Charlotte is known for, which leads me to...

How does Charlotte become a murderer?
In third person, I wasn't showing enough of why Charlotte decided to kill Marat, especially when she constantly preached moderation and peace. (A couple months ago, I wouldn't have written on my blog what Charlotte was famous for, but since a Google search will tell you, I'm building the plot around things other than Charlotte's murderous act). In first person, and with an Anne becoming Charlotte, Anne has agency. She knows Charlotte's thoughts, has her memories, has to act like she is Charlotte to fool the rest of the world - but does Anne decide to kill Marat? Or does she forever change the course of the French Revolution and of history?

Other than my adviser and preceptor's comments, there's other things I'm working on.

The character's relationships
Especially Anne's relationship to her dad, French grandmother, and Pierre. Anne is one angry teen and she lets her dad and grandmother know it. With Pierre, on the other hand, expect more chemistry than before.

More characters
Anne's going through a lot of personal things, especially in coming to terms with what happened with her mother, and in the first couple drafts of Through Charlotte's Eyes she didn't really have anyone she feels like she could talk to. Charlotte, too, feels isolated and alone because no one in her family agrees with her political beliefs. But isolation doesn't make for plot. I've added a few more characters that act, in ways, like side-kicks to Anne and Charlotte. I wrote a bit about this in my post yesterday.

Anne's rebellion
I originally wrote a few scenes in which Anne decides to not do something because she knows her grandmother wouldn't approve. (Like go to Caen - where Charlotte lived for about ten years - because of the riots ravaging the countryside). But as I'm changing the POV from 3rd to 1st, these scenes don't jibe with who Anne is. So, now, Anne's rebelling. And, oh, the drama that this creates! Gotta love the drama.

I need to visit Paris. That trip will affect so much of this novel that I can't even consider myself close to finished until I make it there. Trip dates: TBD - but know that I will go there (hopefully by the end of the year).

These are just some of the things I'm working on that are the reasons why the novel isn't ready yet. Slowly but surely, I'm getting there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More on my process and 'aha' moments

I used to wait for inspiration, for something to catch my eye or an idea to suddenly burst into a story. I thought that's what I needed in order for the words to work on the page. But then I grew up.

In high school, I realized that the "novel" I was writing wouldn't spring up overnight. All the words wouldn't be "given" to me, as if a gift from God. And, even if they were, if I wasn't ready, sitting at my computer or my pad of paper, writing, the words would disappear. (Eventually I finished that novel, while in high school, but let's just say that first novel is better left collecting dust.)

Writing, I realized, starts with sitting down and simply trying to get words down on the page. Inevitably, even if I didn't feel inspired, I'd become immersed in the world I was creating and then good luck in trying to get me to stop. Even after I put the story or chapter away, the story would simmer as I thought about how the next scene or section of dialogue would pane out.

The most amazing thing about grad school was that I spent a majority of my waking life - especially in Spring term - immersed in the world of Charlotte Corday and Anne-Marie Gessner. Sure, I had to pull away from the novel and attend classes and write unrelated papers, but the rest of the time, I was in Charlotte and Anne's heads, and no matter whether I felt inspired or not, I had to write. I had to, or my thesis wouldn't have been ready in time. I couldn't wait for 'aha' moments; I had to make them come to me.

After grad school ended and I relaxed into summer (and started stressing about finding a full-time job), the revision process waned, even as I continued to think about Through Charlotte's Eyes. I knew the novel was "done" for school, that I had a complete draft, that my thesis advisor and preceptor thought it publishable, but it still didn't feel ready. I thought I could do better.

People began to ask me, "But how do you know when it'll be ready? Will it ever be ready?"

Yes, my answer always is. There's just some things I still need to do. (More on this in tomorrow's blog post).

So, how do I make inspiration come to me? By talking and writing about my novel, by bouncing ideas off of people (especially my boyfriend) and thinking about my novel as I walk to work, ride the el, and do chores around the apartment. Inevitably, this process forces ideas through and I'm ready to get back to the page. This is how 'aha' moments happen - not by magic - but by thinking about my novel.

My latest 'aha' moment sprung the other day. I was telling my boyfriend about the catacombs in Paris, which I've become obsessed with lately, and how I need to work them into my novel because they're so creepy. Plus, that's where Charlotte is supposedly buried.

As I'm telling him about cataphiles (people who explore the catacombs at night, despite and probably because it's illegal), an idea hit me about what brings Anne to explore them. She's with a group of people visiting Paris on foreign term from America, and they decide to go check it out as they tell ghost stories about the underground tunnels that house the resting place of more than six million Parisians. But I was annoyed with how Anne had just met these people and I wasn't convinced that she's the kind of person to just tag along.

This brought up another nagging issue for me: there's too many characters that pop up for a couple scenes and then disappear. So, I thought about the beginning of my novel, about Anne overhearing a conversation between a couple girls her age. Why couldn't she end up meeting one of them (instead of just eavesdropping), and one of these girls is part of this group that goes down to the catacombs at night? AHA. BOOM. TA DA. The light went on, and ideas about this new character and friend to Anne - who doesn't disappear after a few chapters - flooded my head. She's a foil to Anne's best friend who's back in Illinois, at home.

I'm giving too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I recognize that this new idea means that I need to go back and rewrite parts of Chapter 1 through 11 again, but if that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

I have an idea in my head for how I want this novel to be and it will not be ready until I achieve that picture. So, thank you friends, family, and fellow bloggers for your support while I work on this novel, but I've still got a ways to go. If you want to talk about the novel, I'd love to - in fact, I welcome it - but please try to avoid the question of "When's the novel going to be done?" I promise you. It will be complete and finished...eventually. But when this novel gets published, I want it to be everything I want and need it to be, and until then, it won't be ready.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

WIP Wednesday... *ahem* Thursday... #6

The title of this blog post says it all... I'm running behind on everything, the deadlines for my WIP included. I would rather crawl into my bed and hide under my covers then admit this - but I need to keep holding myself accountable - so I'm just going to spit it out and say it, as much as it pains me.

I still haven't even met my writing goals/deadlines for June 30th.

Commence gnashing of teeth and tearing out of hair.

Okay, okay. I'm calmer now. The deadlines are to help, not stress me out. I have excuses, plenty of them. I've been busy. And it's not like I haven't been working on the novel, I have - just not as much as I'd like to (or should) be.

I've been working out tons of snafus with getting the lease for my new place (I'm now halfway there; lease signed, just need a move-out date, and, you know, to start painting and packing). I've been out of town (to see a good friend from high school, and it had been much too long since we'd seen each other last). I've been spending time with my youngest sister before bidding her farewell (she left for Paris on Tuesday for five - yes, FIVE, weeks - and I'm oh so jealous of her). And, of course, I've been writing about hot dogs.


In ways, I feel like my life is being taken over by hot dogs. Don't get me wrong. I'm loving it. I love keeping my eyes open for news stories related to Chicago dogs. I love hearing people's comments about my stories. I love reading about hot dogs, trying new hot dogs... simply put, I love the distraction. And, yes, it's a big distraction that is nothing related to Paris, riots, the French Revolution, time travelling, and all the other things my novel is about.

So it's decided. I'll keep working on Through Charlotte's Eyes, I'll keep pushing toward meeting my deadlines (even if I'm way behind), but I'll also start brainstorming on ideas for a novel that revolves around hot dogs. That, I believe, is the perfect solution.


To join in on WIP Wednesdays, check out Kate's blog.