Love Your Characters

Love what you write. Much of how I look at writing/craft/process comes from years and years of poetry. My thoughts on imagery and diction are fueled by my medium. It is this lyrical perspective that gives my prose writing its unique voice. That and my brain is just weird. As a new writer to the […]

Love what you write.

Much of how I look at writing/craft/process comes from years and years of poetry.

My thoughts on imagery and diction are fueled by my medium. It is this lyrical perspective that gives my prose writing its unique voice. That and my brain is just weird.

As a new writer to the world of genre fiction (specifically urban fantasy) there are things that I don’t actually see or realize until I write them and then I have the, “Oh, that’s where that went wrong,” moment.

One thing I learned while reading fiction and learning to write fiction is that you have to love your characters. Not just like them. Not just tolerate them. Not just the main character or even the side characters.

Because if you don’t they won’t sound or look genuine on the page. They’ll look like cardboard stand-ins for real people and, most importantly, they won’t talk to you and tell you what they are doing in your story.

And if you don’t enjoy reading what you write after you’ve written it, like if you finish the “final draft” and never want to look at it again—not because you’re tired of the story because you’ve read it literally 1 million times over and over again—but because deep down you’re embarrassed or you think no one will want this but you’ve worked so damn hard and you want it out in the world for people to read…guess what! It’s not good enough. Because you haven’t put your heart into it.

And yes, I speak from personal experience. I never wanted to look at the first book (of fiction) that I self-published.

I learned the hard way that characters, much like poems, have minds of their own. Even though I made up those minds I have no control over what they do. That’s part of my creative process. In The Slaughter Chronicles, my protagonist’s love interest has changed 5 times. Five fucking times!

The first one didn’t want to date her. Then she didn’t want to date the second one. And then the third didn’t want to date her either (he’d sleep with her but he wouldn’t date her). Meanwhile, her real love interest was sitting backstage with a cup of mulled wine and a copy of GP Racing and every so often he’d grumble, “I’m waiting right here, whenever you’re ready.”

(Spoiler alert: he’s a petrol head!)

But back to what I was saying; those characters and that story didn’t work out because not only had I not properly fleshed them out, I didn’t listen to what they wanted. I tried to force round pegs into square holes…square pegs into round holes…you get the idea.

And I surrounded them with minor characters that existed just to fill the scene with bodies. Rookie mistake! They didn’t work either. And whole chapters of that book fell to pieces because I didn’t care enough about the characters to get them where they needed to be.

In my NaNoWriMo 2016 manuscript, I got up to 45,000 words before one of my protagonists informed me that he was the real villain in the story and I need to acknowledge him asap. Well, I didn’t because I wanted to finish the story the way I wanted it. Well, guess what? I won NaNo that year but I didn’t finish the story. 4 years later and I still haven’t finished it because I’ve lost touch with that character. Maybe one day I’ll get him back…

So…if you don’t love them, you probably need to delete them. Or give them a major overhaul. And really listen to what they’re trying to tell you.

Love your characters even when you kill them. Love your characters when you break their hearts and destroy everything they love. Love them even if they’re the biggest piece of shit-horrible villain you’ve ever seen. Because they are yours. And they matter. Even if they show up in only one sentence, they matter.

Love your story even though you’re sick to death of reading it. Writing can be painful, annoying, back breaking work but as long as you still love what you’re doing and you are honestly writing what you want to write, it’s going to be great.

Don’t do what I did and settle with less just so you could publish something.

Thanks for reading, I love you all! Stay safe!

Author: Jessa Forest

Jessa Forest writes poetry and dark fiction. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks and The Slaughter Chronicles, a grimdark, Lovecraftian-esque urban fantasy about werewolves. Her stories question the definable borders of reality and indulge in the gritty, gory sides of fantasy and horror. She was born in Arkansas, USA.

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