Let your characters LIVE ON THEIR OWN

by Ksenia Anske


Photo by Sarah Ann Wright

While editing Draft 5 of Siren Suicides, I noticed a curious thing. Where in previous drafts I had to keep a list of characters complete with their traits and likes and dislikes and such, the more drafts I completed, the less I relied on lists, and in Draft 5 I ended up not relying on any lists at all. I simply think what this character or that character would do, and write accordingly. It's simple, to the point of thinking about real people that I've known my entire life, guessing at their reaction. Which is pretty easy, if you happen to know these people. And that is not all. I have my next book poking its head into my subconscious every day now, and because I've been through this process before, the characters form by association from some unknown source. Here is the lesson I've learned. It's always been right from the start. The problem was not in my characters, it was in me. I was a green beginning writer with not a clue about how to write a novel, and I doubted myself. But my characters never did, and all I had to do was, LET THEM LIVE ON THEIR OWN. 

Keep the first thing that comes to mind. I remember the very first images I had for my sirens, way back in 2008. I had no story back then yet, only pictures. And instead of simply writing down what I saw in my head, I proceeded doubting myself and researching siren mythology to death. I ended up wasting hours and hours and using close to none of it in my novel, yet the original look and feel for the characters stayed exactly the same. Bleached looking white hair, as if devoid of color. Voices that can sing out souls. Both lungs and gills for breathing. Long hair being sirens' only cover. I can go on and on. So, what is it for you The character's name, look, clothes, favorite food? Just jot down those things as they pop into your head when you begin writing and don't worry about research. Keep writing, your characters will grow. Which brings me to the next point.

Characters take time to form fully. Let them. Don't rush them. You can't tell your child to grow faster, can you? You can't just push a magic button and speed it up. Same goes for characters. They will grow in your mind as real people, if you only stop yelling at them to do it faster already. That's why it takes so long to write a good novel. I will repeat myself here. That's why it takes so long to write a GOOD novel. See what I mean? You can bang out something in a couple of months, I'm sure. But it will most likely suck. Because there is simply not enough time for you to develop your characters. And a story is nothing without good characters. Because any story is about someone being put into some very uncomfortable situation and having to deal with it. If your characters are flat and boring, their decisions will be boring, and the story will collapse, no matter how many twists or turns you introduce.

Merge people you know into new people. Seriously. Your best writing happens when you don't have to think about HOW to write it, but you think WHAT to write. What happens next? Oh, this, cool. Well, what about after that? Got it. The problems start when you have no clue how your characters will react. It's because you don't know them, their flat. One thing I found helps me, (and please take my advice with a grain of salt, because I'm still working on my first novel and am sharing my experience) is combining several people I know into one, using one as the main image and the other for certain traits. I don't do more than 2 because it's hard to keep track of them in my head, and eventually they grow into their own people, but I found it even helps with dialogue, because I imagine them talking in their real voice, and I can tell what sounds awkward and what's not. 

Get more time to write! As simple as that. Once you remove the task of compiling lists of your characters, keeping them all organized, etc, etc, you have more time to do the actual writing! Also, I suggest you pick out two or three main characters for your first novel, to make it easier and cleaner and to gain experience. Later, you can handle more. But it's better to do one little thing well, then do a dozen poor ones, wouldn't you agree? At least it was my experience. People keep asking me if I use any special software, or lists, or extra Google docs with compiled character traits. Some people have even sent me their lists to share. I use none. Don't have to. It's all here... *taps herself on the head* There is another problem that arises from this, however, and that is characters talking in my head, but that's a whole another blog post. I'll wrap this up quickly, before they start whispering again.

Well, then... fess up. What's your experience like with building characters? 

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WRITE A NOVEL. Change this fucking world for the better.

by Ksenia Anske


Photo by Emma Katka

This was supposed to be a happy post. This was supposed to be a post about a victorious feeling after finishing Draft 4 of my 1st novel, getting 50+ Beta Readers to read it, getting an enormous amount of positive feedback on it, and much much more. Well, it's not going to happen, because 20 elementary school kids died this morning when a gunman, a father of a student, opened fire on them.

HOW CAN YOU LIVE AFTER HEARING NEWS LIKE THIS? TELL ME. I'll tell you. I will write. I will write as fast as I can. I will use every second of my existence to do it.

I won't let a gunman stop me. It is my job, to change this fucking world for the better or die trying. 

IT'S WHY I LIVE.

People keep asking me where I got inspiration for my book. It wasn't inspiration, it was pain, an incredible amount of pain that I didn't know how else to release and help others feel it with me, in hopes of doing something about it together. As I disclosed on Twitter a few weeks ago, I'm an incest survivor, my father and my step-grandfather sexually abused me and I had complete amnesia until I went back to Russia and saw my father. This triggered memories, panic attacks and the like. At 33 I wanted to kill myself, but then decided, NO, FUCK IT, I will talk about it instead. For the first time in my life, I understood why I wanted to take my life at 16. Why I ran away from home. Writing SIREN SUICIDES was my therapy. It's heavily laced with issues of teenage suicide and the antagonist is a woman hater. This is my cry for help, this book. I want to stop teenage suicide. I want to stop abuse. I want to change it.

YOU CAN DO IT TOO. WRITE A NOVEL. PLEASE.

Dig deep into the pain you're afraid to face. All of us have this one forbidden topic that nobody mentions at family gatherings but that gives you nightmares. You're afraid to mention it, I know. Don't! Make up a fictional character with the same problem and pour out your heart into a fictional story. Magnify the issues you want to talk about, it's the best thing ever. You can be as mad as you want, as angry as you want. In fact, the more you feel while writing, the better it feels when you're finished. I can testify to you that I'm a hundred traumas lighter after almost finishing my book. So go ahead, start today. Take one step closer to being happy.

Forget about plot and stay true to your feelings. Stop reading books about how to write books. 1st Draft of anything is shit. Just sit down and start from the place that hurts most. Keep pouring until it's empty. I'm sure it will take you several months (though it took me only 6 weeks, I carried it so long, I guess it badly wanted out). Keep writing. Don't stop. Don't think. Don't talk to anyone. Don't share it with anyone. Write. Stop at the end when done. Ignore your doubts. Imagine that you're writing a complete stream of consciousness. And one day you'll be astounded to find Draft 1 completed. Voila!

Divorce from your story, make it about your characters. Now that you have 1st Draft completed, let it rest for a week and then read the whole thing to see how it makes you feel and find the story that's there. Let it live on it's own - each consecutive Draft is about the story, NOT YOU. Remember this. That's why people will read it. They don't know you, they won't care for your pain. That's why a novel is so powerful. You create a fictional character that is a magnified version of everything you ever wanted to be (or not), and readers will notice that person. They will root for her or him, and they will feel it together with you. The most recent example I have of this is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I can literally feel what he's trying to say, and it made me that much more driven to continue with my own writing.

Stop existing and start living. Think about it. You carry suppressed pain. We all do, to one extent or another. Your body and mind spend energy suppressing it, instead of enjoying life. So, depending on the amount of pain you carry, maybe about 20% of your energy is spent keeping it in check, maybe 50%, maybe even 80%. Ever meet those people that look like walking zombies? Yeah. You don't want to turn out like that. Cut yourself open, I know, it's painful, but it must be done in order for you to spill your pain on paper. And you will gain your energy back. I did. I'm happy. I've never been happier in my life than I am now. You can do it too. Please!

Now that I've written my pain out, in this post, I actually feel better. I only have one question for you - why do you live? Right now, right this very second, if you knew you had only 1 hour left to live, what is it you wish you had time to do? Would you wish you weren't so afraid and had the guts to tell your story? You still can.

START NOW.

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