If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I finished the first draft of my first novel The Achievers back in June. You also know that my summer took a sad turn, and, well, life brought some complications as it tends to do. What you may not know is that I got back on track and have now finished my edits! Hallelujah.
After stepping back from the first draft, I recognized that restricting the point of view to one character severely limited access to the potential contributions of other characters’ voices and emotions. Being the stubborn novice that I am, however, I sent the first draft to an agent I’d met at the conference in June. I wasn’t surprised when she suggested that I establish and explore the other characters more thoroughly. The last couple of months have been spent trying to figure out how to go about that. I took a few different paths to my goal, and I confess that they wound around a bit.
First, I wrote the life stories of each of the other main characters in their own voices. That was a fascinating exercise. I knew these characters already. I saw them clearly, and I could hear what was going on in their minds. But as I wrote their stories, I realized that there were lots of things that I didn’t know about them. My friend Shannon, therapist extraordinaire, reminded me that human beings are driven by the people and events that molded them. To discount those influences is to lose sight of what motivates people. Even if those influences don’t come up in the story by name, they are always there, lurking in the psyche of the character. I’ve articulated them now, and my characters are (hopefully!) the richer for it.
Next, I decided that we needed to hear from these characters. The entire first draft was filtered through my heroine’s sheltered life experiences because she was the only one reporting on the story’s events. I wrote chapters from her best friend’s point of view and her father’s and another important character’s, and I sent them off to my loyal cadre of awesome readers (Shannon, Elsa, Correy, Christine, Mom—many thanks!) who never fail to provide useful feedback. We talked and argued and emailed and edited and scaled it back. Once I decided on the characters from whom we’d get to hear, it was down to me to finish the job of writing it all.
Finally, I scheduled a rush trip to Seattle, the setting of the story. I needed the inspiration to complete the journey, and the city didn’t disappoint. We walked the streets and felt the misty rain and admired the mountains and the Sound that play their own parts in the book. I took what I needed to fuel the final push, and now I’m done.
I can’t tell you that I enjoyed this part of the process all that much. As I wrote the first draft, the words flowed through me. I didn’t always feel the same sensation during the second draft. At times, the new chapters seemed alien to me. I was so accustomed to reading it in its first form that additions felt like unwelcome intruders. I kept checking in with my cadre because I couldn’t see it clearly anymore. I couldn’t step back and be objective or look at it through a new reader’s eyes, but now that it’s over, I like the new chapters. I like what they add to the world I created. I like that we get to hear from someone whose perspective is really key to the experience. I must say that I love his voice and what he brings to the table.
What I’ve learned from writing my first novel can’t really be expressed. I’ve learned about myself and other people. I’ve learned what to think about while I plan the next book of the trilogy. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, for me. But the components of what I’ve learned are woven into the fabric of my becoming a better writer just as they are woven into crafting a better character. Characters aren’t just made up figures in two dimensions designed to propel a story. They have to be multi-layered–more than the sum total of the things they’ve gone through and learned–just like real people.
What a valuable lesson!