Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Making the Leap from Fanfiction to Original Fiction

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

I’m a sucker for backstory. I love it more than is probably healthy. I’m the one who’s always asking “what happened before? Where did that character trait come from? Who made this person into who they are? Why why why why?”

For someone like me, fanfiction was the perfect venue. I could take these mostly full-formed characters I loved and fill in the blank places. The world I chose to start with was Harry Potter, but I didn’t want to write about Ron or Harry or Hermione. I wanted to know why Lucius Malfoy hated Muggles so much, and what Sirius Black’s birthday was, and how Sybill Trelawney became so forgetful. Once I found The Sugar Quill and saw that other people were also interested in exploring the nooks and crannies, I was hooked. I started writing (terrible) fanfiction, filled with the worst, most melodramatic trope overuse. Luckily all of that is lost to the annals of time.

Slowly, though, I got better at it. I finally wrote a story I liked enough to submit to the Quill, one I was proud of even though deep down inside I knew it probably sucked. But the powers that be there liked it! They liked it enough to shelve it with their favorites, and thus was born my first authorial acceptance letter. I kept writing, kept exploring the pieces not only in the Harry Potter fandom but in many others, and a funny thing happened.

I became a better writer for all that inane poking around in the backstories of other peoples’ characters.

For the record, I’d always dabbled in writing original fiction too. I just didn’t think it was very good at all. I’d switch back and forth between fanfiction and original fiction and slowly, slowly, the light dawned. With original fiction, no one could claim my MC was acting out of character. No one could tell me that I’d gotten the background details wrong. No one could say I hadn’t read the right chapter or watched the right episode. No one argued with me over whether what happened was wrong or right.

After being constrained by canon for so long, writing my own worlds and characters was a breath of fresh air. I became very good at writing characters and knowing them and giving them backstory. Always backstory, because I’m still a sucker for it. And little by little I learned that I’m the one who needs to know the backstory, but it doesn’t have to be a part of the story. It’s enough that I know it.

Making the leap from fanfic to original fiction was a little bittersweet. I didn’t sit down and say no more fanfiction, not now, not ever! But once I’d tasted the freedom that came with writing my own worlds, I was hooked. I still had to figure out big-picture things like how to plot and how to use story beats, and in many ways I’m still and will always be figuring that out. Somewhere along the line, my focus for original fiction outshone my focus for fanfic. Fanfic became harder and harder for me to write, where original fiction flowed like a river. Eventually I stopped writing fanfiction altogether–and now I doubt I’d even know how to do it any more.

I was able to fill the need for it in a unique way, though. It didn’t take me too long to realize that writing sequels for my original stories was exactly like writing fanfiction for my own canon. What can I say? Where there’s a will, there’s a way?

Even though I don’t write fanfiction any more (my last one was written over three years ago), it will always have a special place in my heart. It taught me so much about the craft and skill of writing, of imagination, and of infusing writing with emotion. So if you’ve got a background in fandom and write or wrote fanfiction, wear that nerd banner proudly! It serves us well.

And before you know it, people will be writing fanfiction for your characters.


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My Playlist

If you’ve been following along, you know I wrote a novel that’s been workshopped in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest. My story takes place behind the scenes on a rock band’s road tour. It features roadies! rock stars! women in the industry! managers! fans! models, Irish wolfhounds, load-in, load-out, backline techs, tour buses, hotels, extravagance, heartbreak, heartache, lies, deception, true love’s first kiss… and oh, yeah, music. Even though I can’t share the music in my mind from my pretend rock band, I can share the real-world music pivotal to the story.

Each of the primary characters have their own theme songs. My main characters get two each, just because. Continue reading


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I can’t be the only one who does this, can I?

Writing is an extension of acting for me, and I’ve always been a method actor. Obviously I’m not going to do everything my characters do (that would be stupid), but when I write them, I have to feel what they’re going through. If I can’t channel that aspect of the character, I can’t write them convincingly.

I’m not alone in this, right? I mean, making up characters and holding the baton that dictates their lives is a little bit crazy to start with. I guess there’s no harm in adding more to it.

On Twitter the other day, I said sometimes it’s hard to be myself when all these other characters want their turn in the spotlight, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I meant it. I love what I do.


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I love writing.

I was sitting here reading over today’s words and was happily struck by how much I love writing. I love the world I created, the characters who inhabit that world, their circumstances and quirks and imperfections. I’m having such a blast with this book that I smile when I read it, and that’s not something that always happens.

It isn’t that I sit around patting myself on the back, being too self-congratulatory. I did have a moment, though, and I figured that was worth sharing. It’s times like this that remind me why I do what I do, and remind me that the act of creating something new can be so much fun.


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My characters are jealous of each other.

You’ve got a story, or a novel, or maybe three. The one you’ve been working on most recently is by all means your favorite. You love it to pieces, love the characters, are invested in their well-being and their future… and then a nagging voice from beyond says but what about me, that novel you almost but didn’t quite finish? You put me away to percolate, but guess what? The pot is boiling and it’s about to overflow. Come rescue me!

I’ve never been that great at prioritizing. Trying to do everything at once isn’t the best way of getting by, but a bit here and a bit there? Why not? Part of it is the very real worry of losing a character’s voice and momentum if I put them aside to work on something else. Part of it is an in-my-brain pseudo dating jealousy among my characters (“she likes ME best, so there!”). It’s bad enough when it’s just one book, but three? I have an entire geography rattling around in my brain. I tell myself, “maybe if I get to Continent A I can spend enough time there to finish one quest, then I can move on to…”

It’s like a video game with multiple storylines, and I have to decide which to tackle first. This is not the least pleasant scenario I can imagine, but it’s awfully crowded!

Crowded. That’s the title of another book I was going to get back to. Hmm, maybe if I squeeze a little time away from my latest…


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Full Disclosure

…I just realized that would be the perfect name for this book I’m writing. Wow. I might have to use that.

My full disclosure, though, was over the fact that against my better judgment, the story I’m writing is a love triangle romance. I’ve tried writing romances before and have failed. As a writer I have a much more evil streak than I do as an everyday human being. I like to put my characters into all manner of peril and tighten the ropes around their necks. It follows that most of my stories take a twist to the dark side of human emotions, and that doesn’t make for a very happy happily-ever-after or happy-for-now conclusion.

The task I’ve set for myself with this one is to let it be complicated but not unnecessarily ugly, to let the characters be themselves without me forcing them into contrived situations. It’s always seemed to me that falling in love is a perilous enough thing, and managing to stay in love is even more difficult. For my protagonist, that emotional journey is just as fraught with peril as the process of learning to be an adult. No, I’m not coupling a coming-of-age story on top of this. Enough’s enough, and my protagonist is in her early twenties already.

There will be no half-naked men with overly sculpted abs on this front cover. No werewolves, vampires, wizards, zombies, or other paranormal beings (although I reserve the right to use a good old-fashioned ghost if need be). There’s no time travel, no alien from another galaxy. Just humans being spectacularly human, and what I suspect could be classified as a moderate degree of heat.

I’m not sure I know what I’m doing, but I’m having a lot of fun finding out whether or not I’ll succeed. At least my characters have all started springing nicely to life, with distinct personalities, quirks, wants, and needs. I can’t ask for a whole lot more than that!

Fellow writers, how’s your work going? Most importantly, are we having fun yet?


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Characterization

Where do you find inspiration for characterization? Does a character come to you fully realized, presenting themselves as if you were meeting for the first time at a party? Do you get snippets of understanding about them that deepen over time? What tools do you use to round out your character’s personality?

From the time I was young, I’ve had a strong interest in astrology. One of my favorite tools to use in writing is determining a character’s astrological work-up (this of course requires more than a passing familiarity with the subject). Once I’ve done that, I can go to my favorite reference book, Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, and use her insight as a way of rounding out my character’s personality. Yes, the book is dated, but her descriptions are vivid and wonderful and if you see her work the way I do, you’re presented with at least two dozen fully fleshed-out character studies.

Another fun tool is the Meyers-Briggs assessment. For me, this is better in retrospect than when I’m actively trying to create a character, but it gives me as a writer plenty to think about: introvert or extrovert? Sensing or intuition? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? What a wealth of detail we can bring to the page simply by deciding which of these tendencies are strongest in our characters.

I’ve also been known to use enneagrams to flesh out my characters, but since that’s a tool with which I’m less familiar, I tend not to use it as often (I’m much more at ease with numerology if we’re going by numbers).

There are so many other tools out there to help make characters realistic. What are your favorites? Which ones have I missed? And finally, how many hours have you spent taking online personality quizzes as your character(s)?