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!

Girl + Muse =

the title poem of my chapbook Girl + Muse. Written back in 2009ish, my pre-grad school days, this poem is over 10 years old now. Still love her very much.

Read the full chapbook and download it for free here.

Girl + Muse +

morning. We woke up

and you performed

another extraordinary miracle:

wings split

the paper thin skin

taped across your shoulder blades,

your wet spine

glistened through jauntily

angled prisms knotted

to your ribcage

with flayed nerves

and slippery veins.

As you flew around the room

you said: “No. That’s not how

it happened.”

I woke up alone.

*

Photo by 🇻🇪 Jose G. Ortega Castro 🇲🇽 on Unsplash

Lupercalia

The title poem from my chapbook Lupercalia. Written back in Fall/Winter 2010 when I first started at Goddard’s MFA program. That means this poem is almost 10 years old!

Lupercalia

Last year the city ran down to the frozen river. She threw her face against the rocks, the tatters of her brain crystallized as they oozed from her broken eyes. When we found her we combed the tangles from her hair, rose quartz stained with a grey sky kept us fed for weeks.

Now, what’s left of her slinks through the night like a wolf and you can only see her out of the corner of your eye.

She has not yet forgiven us for the highway stretching on and on forever, crusted with burnt-sugar kudzu and the bones of lovers who will never return.

This year I eat a salt cake in her honor and burn my tongue in the tiny campfire my mother taught me how to make when she and the city were so very young. I pluck out my eyes with the last of the winter roses and let their thorns curl down my cheeks.

Next year, when my voice returns, I will cut it out again.

Read the full chapbook here.

Photo by salem abu al qumsan on Unsplash.

The Promise: a grimdark dystopian short story

The Promise

a Short Story by Jessa Forest

Download your free PDF version of this story here.

Disclaimer: this story contains the death of a child and detailed descriptions of sickness and gore. Please read responsibly.

When I woke it was not from sleep but a dreamless poison. The fog was thick when we stopped and it must have crept in and thickened when we were too weak to stand or notice, too weak to get away; smothering us like an insidious, sentient tide, all cold hunger and keen thirst.

Barrow, lying next to me, did not rise and never would again. Her younger brother, Potter, whimpered softly in the cold crook of her arm.

“Pyre,” Coffin’s choked, coughing voice floated above me like sunshine above a storm. “Can you walk, Pyre?”

Continue reading “The Promise: a grimdark dystopian short story”

The Librarian: a dark fantasy short story

The Librarian

a Short Story by Jessa Forest

Download your free PDF version here.

The big table makes you look smaller than you are. Like a little morsel, a macaroon, a petit four alone on a dinner plate. You twitch, fidget. You curl your spine protectively over your phone screen despite the towers of books that surround you. Ponderous tombs of science, philosophy, and madness.

The World Atlas Extraordinaire sits on a stand older than this building next to you, propped open to the Pacific Islands, resplendently corralled by the cartography of the currents, dancing whorls of sacred scarification.

Each time the door slides open your eyes dart around in your skill like scared rabbits. You’re looking toward the door now; the shining glass, the herald of the morning sun. You are waiting for someone.

Continue reading “The Librarian: a dark fantasy short story”