Showing posts with label Stardust Warriors Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stardust Warriors Series. Show all posts

Friday, April 6, 2012

4 Important Character Concerns

Here are some things to consider in creating your main character. Note I don’t say “hero” or “heroine,” because sometimes the terms don’t apply at first.

Is your character an Insider or Outsider: are they already fully immersed in the world or is the reader becoming aware along with the character? Sometimes the best way to introduce a reader to the world of the weird is to introduce the protagonist to it, so that he or she begins at the same level of knowledge, basically, as the reader.
    In Odessa, Book One of the Seraphym Wars Series, or Harpies, Book Two, Myrna and Griffen are from Earth but find themselves suddenly and inexplicitly waking on a foreign planet fill with demon-dragons who run the place. Not only that, but the world is Steampunk instead of the contemporary Earth they know. People dress strangely and vehicles hover or sail through the sky while the world itself is primal and filled with monsters. These ambiguities create a lot of tension for the characters, but for the reader as well. The reader is taking the same journey as the characters in learning about their new world.

Alternately, it can be intriguing simply to launch your reader into the fictional world right from the beginning. In my Middle Grade story Masquerade’s Moon Madness, Masquerade is an adorable black cat who used to be a little girl but now lives with a young witch named Wendy. The reader accompanies Masquerade on her adventures throughout time and space as she and Wendy travel and learn. But it’s up to the reader to simply accept certain facts; like a little orphan girl becoming a cat after sipping the witch’s stew.

Can you character take abuse? As any writer is aware, every good character has flaws. The only character I can think of who might not is Jesus or a computer (and even then something could be devised). After all, if your character is too wimpy to withstand the conflict your story must cast their way, they really aren’t much of a character are they? So why should a reader continue reading about them? What will hold the reader’s attention? The other reason a character must be flawed is to seem realistic. How else will a reader empathize with the character’s plight?

But as important as a flaw or two may be, it is more important that the character have the guts and wherewithal to deal with the issues at hand. Just remember to ease the character into being able to solve their problems. If they seem super-human from the get-go, how will they grow and evolve through the story? Again, why should a reader continue reading about the character if they’re strong and capable from the beginning? This brings up the next point…

Hidden strengths: In a novel, characters’ actions tends to larger than life, so characters must be pushed beyond what you or I consider normal endurance. The result is they’ll either break or find hidden strengths that allow them to survive and solve their problems. Breaking is obviously the less heroic choice. How the character solves the conflict determines their hidden strengths and brings them to the surface.

How does your character best speak? POV: Narration, whether it comes from the main character, a secondary character or outside viewer, has changed significantly over the past hundred years. If you read anything written in the early 1900’s you will easily discern the author’s opinion throughout the story, even fiction, because it was common for the omniscient narrator to share their own ideas. But today’s readers don’t have the time for all of the extraneous narration and want to make up their own minds about how they feel about the characters and story.

Hence, the omniscient narrator has become passe and the popular POV is first person for younger books, although third person is still widely used everywhere.

First person, or the “I” perspective, is quite popular right now, especially in young fiction. It can feel intimate, which is what teens seem to like about it; but it can also be limiting, since it’s best (though not exclusively) used in single point of view. Word of caution: don’t allow your character to speak directly to the reader (another ancient form of narration). A reader wants to disappear into a book and live vicariously alongside the characters. Also, one person can’t ever truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, so a writer must give the reader cues through dialogue, expression and body language.

Third person is the most commonly used POV. This is the “he” or “she” perspective. The reader remains in a particular character’s head until a new character takes over after a section break or new chapter. There are caveats here too. If you choose to write from more than one perspective, it’s important for each voice to sound truly distinctive so that the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking/thinking. It is strongly advisable for the writer to limit the number of POVs so a reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of the main character’s conflict/resolution.

Generally, for younger readers one POV is used, sometimes a second POV can be inserted sparingly and obviously made different; Young Adult might have as many as three. Authors today are trying various techniques in search of the almighty best-seller. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they flop. I read a book, or started reading it, which changed perspective with each chapter. With four or five character POVs constantly changing like that I quickly got lost and lost interest in the book. So mind how many POVs you use and keep them obviously different enough readers don’t get lost.

Harpies, Book Two Seraphym Wars Series for YA Readers
Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.

Rebecca Ryals Russell is author of Seraphym Wars Series for YA readers and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. She also has several MG chapter books in the works as well as a YA Dystopian. See more about her and her WIPs at Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell or Tween Word Quest.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 Things Every Literary Hero Needs

My first draft of Odessa, then called Dragons in the Dark, could have given a garbage dump a run for the money in stink. I was so happy and proud to have the entire 600 word story finally written and out of my head. As you know, if you’ve read any of my interviews, the entire story has resided in my head for over thirty years awaiting the right moment and amount of time to pop out. When it finally did and I read it through the manuscript was obviously full of errors, bad writing and a fatal flaw. I had no distinctive main character—no hero or heroine.

Because the story is about a group of seven teens, I assumed they could all tell the story. But it didn’t work that way. I had to decide which of them would tell the story to the reader and be the hero of the book series. Once I knew that, I revised the story about eight times, writing it from Myrna’s point of view, until I got it right. The funny thing is I have a strong driving need to revise it again. I’m guessing that’s a common feeling for authors. And one day I might do it, who knows.
But I digress. My point is this: There are certain aspects of a hero/heroine an author must provide for the story to work.

1-Your protagonist must be interesting. There should be some quirk, personality trait, etc that makes your hero special. Why would a reader care about her and what happens to her? This was my first big area of improvement and why I need to revise Odessa—Myrna isn’t likable enough and she’s too white bread.
2-While the reader doesn’t need to feel sympathetic for your protag (as in the case of a detestable character-murderer, rapist, etc), they should be able to feel some empathy for them. Maybe a horrific childhood that created their current character.
3-Protags should act bravely.
4-As the ‘god’ creating your characters, it is imperative the author knows every aspect of each main character in the story. They should exist in the author’s head as surely as any living person. There are many character creation templates to help with this. I’ll post my own in my next posting.
5-Conflict, conflict, conflict. Your story must have a general overriding conflict, but so should each of the characters—especially your protag. If your hero has no inner conflict or problems to overcome, what makes them interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention?
6-In addition to or in conjunction with a conflict, your hero should have a weakness. They may not realize it at first, but sometime during the story it should come to light and they must work on improving that weakness while accomplishing their tasks.
7-All characters in a story, but especially your protagonist, must change and grow throughout the story. If you are writing a series, each book should have a character arc of growth which is different from that of the series.
8-Your hero must have a reason for doing whatever they are doing in your story. The protag’s younger sister was kidnapped; her parents were killed and the murderer is after her; she is trying to get someone specific to fall in love with her. Whatever the reason, without a purpose for the protag’s actions/journey, you have no story.
9-Make sure your hero is believable. No one is completely good or absolutely bad. Even angels and demons can have slight issues causing them to question their behavior. This is what has made the Romantic Vampire so attractive.
10-The war and final battle between the protagonist and antagonist should be satisfying and believable. Even in a Sci Fi story set in a far-away universe, the conclusion to this battle can be believable to the reader if the author understands human nature and sticks to the rules of world building they’ve created. If the story is historical, make sure you stick to the actual history of the event.
These are just some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years and have tried incorporating into my writing. And from personal experience as a reader I can conclude with this final nugget. If you have an awesome main character(s) your story doesn’t even have to be awesome because the character will carry it—but if you can have BOTH, you’ll have a best-seller.

Laman and Harpies are currently in edits and should be available soon.

Rebecca Ryals Russell is a MG/YA Fantasy Author of two series: Seraphym Wars Series for YA and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. There are currently three books of each series available via eBook wherever eBooks are sold, with several more currently in edits and others in the works. Follow Rebecca’s progress at Under the Hat of Rebecca Ryals Russellor Tween Word Quest.

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