For the last several weeks I’ve been undergoing the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a couple years ago. If you’re not familiar with the folks at Writing Excuses, I highly recommend them. They don’t require a ton of your time (15 minutes long, though it does sometimes stretch to 20) and even if they talk about things you already know, it’s a discussion that might open you up to something you hadn’t heard before.
A prime example is their conversation on interesting characters (Episode 10.5).
This concept was not new to me. I knew about character agency and stakes and accountability walking into it, and yet I was able to glean a little bit more from them. While this series of blog posts are supposed to be focused on a new novel (fictional characters body snatch people via a new reader’s app) and I have been having fun working within that venue, I found this episode helped one of my other works in progress more.
Castle of Three Kings follows Kevin Campbell, a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself stuck in this cursed castle. The world is interesting, the reason for the curse is solid, and the major players are all colorful or tragic, but Kevin is… well… boring.
Somehow I managed to write 3/4 of a novel with a boy who has only the vaguest character arc, tons of agency (he doesn’t want to die), and zero personality.
Part of me wants to blame this on the fact that I typed the whole first draft instead of doing it by hand (my preferred method). Whatever got me into this position, I’m here now and when I start editing next month I will be concentrating on his arc using some of the methods from this class.
In particular, I’ll be playing with the sliding scales of competency and proactive and likability. These were discussed in other podcasts they’ve done, but they mention it again in this one.
To learn more about the Writing Excuses Podcast and its lovely, talented authors, you can go here.
For kicks and giggles, I’m going to go ahead and put a snippet of the new novel here. This is one of my character auditions from the last lesson.
Kenzie Graham knew the voices in her head weren’t real. She’d lived twenty-three years without them yammering about violins and villains and she was damn well going to live another twenty-three without them. Preferably more than twenty-three, but at this point she was willing to bargain.
She strode down the hall, clutching her Jefferson’s School of Technology computer pad to her chest and avoiding eye contact with fellow students. It wasn’t that she was shy, or even the fact that she was scared – well, petrified – that kept her head down.
No, she couldn’t look at anyone because anytime she did it seemed to trigger Sherlock.
Yes, Sherlock, as in Mr. Holmes himself, the fictional detective that should have stayed fictional. He leaped to vociferous life whenever she locked eyes with someone, running through a list of deductions faster than she could blink. Which in some cases was helpful, he did bark to life in time to warn her away from a spiked drink, but after thirteen hours of his incessant badgering, she was quite done.
Professor Hildon’s experimental app had a major glitch and no amount of extra credit was going to keep her quiet.
“Woah, Kenzie, wait up!” A familiar voice called from behind.
She turned on instinct, surprised and pleased that Cory Miller would seek her out. But Sherlock roused, she could sense him stirring, and as Cory sauntered up there was the familiar barrage of insights; tousled shirt, fraying at the hems of his jeans, sand on his shoes, and the faint odor of decomposing seaweed.
Underachiever, Sherlock said. You can do better.
Kenzie tried for a smile. “Hey, Cory.”
“You bailed early last night,” Cory said with an easy grin.
Please, there’s nothing easy about that grin, Sherlock said. Look at his eyes, he’s worried.
Gritting her teeth, she told Sherlock to stuff it and looked away from Cory. “Yeah, I had homework to do.”
“Oh, right,” Cory said, sounding disappointed.
Crestfallen, my dear. The word you want is crestfallen. HE obviously wanted to spend time with you.
Kenzie held tighter to her computer pad, one part elated at this news and the other part damning Sherlock to hell. Or wherever fictional characters go when they die.
Assuming one believes in an everlasting soul, I should say I don’t have one and therefore don’t qualify for either heaven or hell. But chin up, Kenzie, if he is so distressed, it means he couldn’t have been the one to spike your drink.
“Well of course he didn’t,” Kenzie said, and to her mortification, she realized she’d said it out loud.
Cory blinked at her. “Are you OK?”
“Not really,” she said, going for the truth because why the hell not? It wasn’t unheard of for software to go bonkers, especially in its developmental stage. But she had signed an NDA before taking the extra credit, so there was only so much she could impart without jeopardizing her academic career. “Have you seen Professor Hildon?”