Writing

Why I Don’t Base My Characters Off of People I Know

You’ve probably heard this from many authors: base your characters off people you know. A lot of writers do that, including big ones like J.K. Rowling. However, unlike them, I never base characters off people I know.

That being said, I do often develop them like people I know. Many characters in my books were developed like family members and people I went to school with, including teachers.

However, the ideas of those characters were often for plot convenience or inspired by other fictional sources, such as movies, books, or even legends. In fact, the antagonist in my second book of the “Magical Missions” series was inspired by the Grim Reaper. Believe it or not, in early drafts, he was more like the death figure: pure evil and carrying a scythe. But now he is not like that. I developed him to make the readers sympathize with him more. I won’t spoil anything else from the story, though.

Why don’t I base characters off people I know, you might ask? Because I just feel uninterested and find basing my characters off of other fictional sources better. My life has been pretty straightforward and ordinary. While I’m more social than I used to be, real people inspiring me for characters just doesn’t happen.

fiction

Excerpt: The Unruly Curse (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 2)

Lilac-colored smoke poured in through the slight opening under Alyssa’s bedroom window. Alyssa leaped back. She swore the window had been closed when she’d come in here a few minutes ago.

            The gas clouded into her room, blocking her sight. It washed onto her, causing her to squint and lean back. She coughed, rubbed her eyes, and opened them. The smoke faded. Someone must’ve pulled a prank, and not just any kind—one that involved…wizardry.

            Alyssa’s breathing sped up. She shut the window and gazed at the huge yard and long driveway. No one was outside—not even Alex, her godfather and legal guardian.

            Perhaps the trespasser had escaped or had hidden somewhere—maybe behind the tree on the lawn or somewhere else on the property.

            Alyssa hurried out, brushing ash from her muted purple shirt. She entered the ground floor and opened the front door. “Hello?!”

            There was no answer.

            “Whoever set that smoke off, it wasn’t funny!”

            The silence continued.

            Despite the freezing air this autumn evening, Alyssa stepped onto the front porch. A piece of paper appeared out of nowhere, making her jump. She picked it up, anyway.

            Welcome back to magic.

            Her chest tightened. She hadn’t encountered a single instance of wizardry in six months! Plus, she had two objects that were supposed to protect her from such encounters.

            She dashed back up to her room and opened the closet door. Tape hung from a shoebox, and the items that she had left in there…were missing.

            Heart jackhammering, Alyssa moved shoes and other boxes around. The two things might’ve fallen when she and Alex had moved here from Ohio in the spring after Alex had lost his job there. No one could have stolen them while Alex had taken her to Chicago this afternoon, right?

            As Alyssa picked up the same shoebox, her palms warmed up, and light beams shot out of both hands. She screamed as the rays smashed into each other, and then faded, revealing a tiny, rainbow-colored, bouncy ball.

            Alyssa’s body stiffened, as if paralyzed. Her jaw hung as she gaped at the bouncing ball.

            How could I have done magic? Alyssa asked herself. I’m not a wizard.

            As the object jumped onto her knee, she yelped and fell back. It had left a multi-colored stain on her leggings.

            She sat up. The toy sprung onto her narrow shoulders and then to the top of her head, where it cracked like an egg.

            “Ow!” Alyssa covered that area and then ran her fingers down her straight, pale-blonde hair, checking for any unusual, hard textures. She lifted the ends up from the area a few inches past her hips, where the length fell to. There were tiny plastic ball-bits stuck in her tresses, so she pulled them out.

            Alex knocked on the door. “Alyssa, are you ready for the party?”

            “Not yet.”

            “It’s almost six o’clock, sweetie. The tent in the backyard is already set up.”

            “Something’s wrong with me!”

            Alex opened the door, already wearing his suit. “What’s the matter?”

            “I…I…”

            Alex had tied his shoulder-length light-brown hair into a ponytail. “What’s going on?”

            Alyssa whimpered. “Ma…ma…”

            “Are you all right?”

            She shook her head.

            Alex looked away and covered his goatee. “Your closet’s a mess.”
            “I did magic!” Alyssa’s breathing quickened.

            Alex opened his mouth. “No way. That doesn’t make sense.”

            “I did!” Alyssa sucked in inhalations. “I’m not making this up!”

            Alex tilted his head.

            “I told you about magic back in March! I was kidnapped and taken to Fiji by an evil wizard! And then one of the mentors gave me a couple of little things to keep me safe!”

            “Wait, what?”

            “The objects are gone! Somebody must’ve stolen them!”

            Alex clapped both hands over his mouth.

            “I looked everywhere in my closet! I can’t find them!”

            Alex removed his hands from his mouth.

            “How could you forget these things?!”

            He remained mute.

            “What the heck?!” She sat on her bed, and her breathing still hurried.

            “I’m sorry.” Alex closed the door and left.

            He’d wanted to hold this party over the summer. But his agricultural-engineering and country-singing jobs had kept him from setting a date.

            Alyssa considered the ways in which she might remove these powers. Maybe one of her previous mentors would know a way. Like technology, magic became more advanced over time.

            Alyssa picked up her phone, went onto her email, and searched for Mathias, the wizard who’d provided her with the magical objects. Nothing. The same happened when she searched for Isabelle and Simon.

            Her device rang and she answered.

“Hey, Alyssa, I hope you’re all right,” Simon said in his English accent.

            “Something’s wrong with me. I…I did magic, even though—”

            “I was calling about that.”

            Alyssa raised her eyebrows. Then, she recalled how marble figures, which resembled statues, could gather information from others at the speed of sound, even if they were unconscious.

            “Why didn’t you call earlier?”

            “I wanted to get more information about your new powers.”

            “How can I get rid of them?”

            “I’m not sure.”

            Alyssa exhaled. “There’s got to be something.”

            “I’ll look into it. In the meantime, try some gloves.”

            “You sure that’ll work?”

            “I believe so. That’s one of the things I found out.”

            “On the wizarding internet?”

            “No. From someone who’s friends with the guy who jinxed you.”

            Alyssa gritted her teeth. “Someone jinxed me? Who is he and why did he give me magic powers?”

            “I’m going to have to find out more about that.”

            Alex knocked again.

            “Alyssa, you better get going,” said Simon.

            “Wait.”

            But he’d hung up.

            “Ugh!”

            “Alyssa, who are you talking to?”

            “One of my wizard mentors.”

            Alex opened the door and stepped in. “I can’t cancel the party tonight. The staff won’t let me.”

            “Well, my mentor, Simon, told me to wear gloves.”

            “You think that’s going to work?”

            “He said it should and to give it a try.”

            Alex pressed his lips together.

            “He helped me defeat that sorcerer in Fiji.”

            “When’s the last time you talked to him?”

            Alyssa hesitated. “Not since April. But he was the one who told me about the wizard hunting me down when I was living with Uncle Bruce.”

            “Can I talk to him?”

            “Sure.” Alyssa gave him the phone. “He was the last one who called.”

            Alex pressed on the screen and held the phone to his ear.

            When Alyssa had lived with her uncle, Bruce, in March, she’d informed Alex about wizardry. She’d even told him around the time he’d been granted legal custody over her.

            I guess I forgot to tell him about who my mentors were, she thought.

            Alex hung up. “He’s not answering.”
            “He must be finding out more information about these new…powers.”

            “I’ll let you wear the gloves, but I really don’t feel ready to trust Simon.”

            “Well, I trust him. If it weren’t for him, I might not have made it.”

            Alex sharpened his eyes.

            “Everyone back in New Jersey trusted him, too.” That was where Alyssa had lived until the day after her thirteenth birthday in April.

            “Even Uncle Bruce?”

            “At first, no. Then Simon sent him a note and he trusted him… until that warlock wiped his memories with a storm.” Alyssa looked down, thinking about Uncle Bruce, who resided in an assisted living home. The memory-wiping spell had been blocked years ago, but some powerful magicians could use other ways to get past it. Alyssa still didn’t understand how the storm’s power had erased Uncle Bruce’s memories.

            “After you’re done getting ready, I’ll call Simon from your phone again,” said Alex.

            “How about I just write down his number?”

            “Do what you need to do.” Alex walked out.

            Alyssa sighed as she peeled her clothes off. While Uncle Bruce had treated her and her cousin, Hailey, with little respect and had placed unfair rules on them, Alex cared for her like his own daughter.

            Alyssa’s parents had named him not only her godfather, but also guardian in the event that something might happen to them. The loss of her mom and dad in that car crash when she was seven had changed her life. Despite what the will had stated, Alyssa’s then-babysitter had convinced the cops to let her stay at her aunt and uncle’s house nearby. The state of New Jersey had made Aunt Laura and Uncle Bruce her new guardians.

            However, when Alyssa was nine, Aunt Laura had died from an allergic reaction to a chocolate filled with raspberry cream that she had barely touched. She’d had a fatal allergy to berries. Then, Uncle Bruce had toughened up his attitude, although he’d always had a stern way of parenting, and had rarely smiled. It just hadn’t involved as much yelling and restrictions before Aunt Laura’s death.

            Because a sorcerer called Master Beau had wanted to enslave Alyssa, he’d erased Uncle Bruce’s memories so that he couldn’t protect her. Master Beau wanted her to find items and ways to help strengthen him for ruling France after the French government had banished him for committing a serious crime. Alyssa had never discovered what the offense had been, though. She still deemed her life to overwhelming for a thirteen-year-old.

            She wore her wide-strapped blue-and-black dress. Her fingers sweated as she tied a blue ribbon in her hair and secured it back halfway. Her hands also shook as she put on her jewelry and makeup.

            She opened her closet and put on her dress shoes, a pair of leather gloves, and then went downstairs. Scooter, the yellow lab, barked by the door.

            Alyssa opened it. No one was outside.

            “Who’s there?!” called Alyssa.

Music played in the backyard.

“I’m not stupid!” Alyssa shouted.

            “Alyssa, what are you doing?” asked Alex.

            “I’m yelling at the man who cursed me!”

            “Wait…someone—”

            “Yes! Simon told me!”

            Alex gasped, covered his mouth, and shook his head.

            “I wish I didn’t have to go to the party anymore.”

            Alex took his phone out of his pants pocket and stared into it. “I got a text from your mentor, Simon. He says he’s not a hundred percent sure if the gloves will help. But he’s almost certain.”

            “Did he find out how I can get rid of these powers?”

            “He’s still working on it.”

            Alyssa inhaled and exhaled.

            “Sweetheart, just give the party a try. If you feel uncomfortable, you can go back inside.”

            “What about that speech we’re supposed to give?”

            “It won’t be long.”

            “But I don’t like speaking in front of crowds.”

            “You only have to say a few sentences. I promise.”

            Alyssa sighed.

            “We should head outside.”

            Alyssa followed him.

            I hope the gloves actually work, she thought.

            She continued to look around for the warlock who’d hexed her. He could be wearing an invisibility poncho, or he could have disappeared in a snap.

Alyssa passed the swimming pool and continued down the small hill into the tent. Orange, yellow, and brown balloons covered each pole. A DJ played music near the entrance. A white cloth covered each table, including the round ones for sitting at and the rectangular ones for serving.

As Alyssa shoved her way through the crowd, she saw her friend, Sydney Watson, gaping at her phone, her elbow-length chestnut curls covering her freckled face.

Stomach tightening, Alyssa sat next to Sydney.

“What’s up?” asked Sydney.

“I don’t want to be here.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I…I…it’s too weird.”

“Tell me, anyway.”

“It’s…it’s…m-magic.”

Sydney tilted her head.

“You forgot? I told you about it when we first met.”

Sydney inhaled. Her eyebrows lifted.

“What’s wrong with you?!”

“You didn’t tell me a lot about it.”

“Well, yeah, because I’m technically not supposed to.”

“You said in April that you defeated a magician. I thought it was the kind at magic shows.”

Alyssa shook her head.

“Wait—so what was it really?”

“Nothing.”

“If this is something serious, you need to tell me.”

“Okay, it’s…it’s…”

Sydney nodded.

“It’s something from a stranger.”

“What?”

“A…an issue with my hands.”

Sydney pressed her lips together.

“I’ll stop there.”

“Alyssa, you’re hiding something.”

“I think it would be better if you stayed out of it.”

“Look, I’m your friend. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Alyssa remained mute.

“If you want us to help you, then you shouldn’t hide things like this.”

“Who said anything about help?”

“Hello, guys,” said Lily Browne, another friend of Alyssa’s. Lily trotted to them, smiling. Her dark brown hair bounced against her waist. She joined Alyssa and Sydney. “This is going to be so awesome.” She giggled.

“I hope so.” Alyssa looked down.

“What’s the matter?” Lily asked. “Had a bad day?”

“Not until right before the party,” she said.

“Aw.” Lily patted her shoulder. “It’ll be okay.”

“Why don’t you tell Lily about what happened to you?” Sydney asked.

“No,” Alyssa answered.

“You can tell me,” said Lily. “I won’t judge you.”

“Maybe later,” muttered Alyssa.

“Alyssa, you really should tell us what happened to you,” said Sydney.

“We won’t tell anyone else,” Lily said. “We promise.”

Alyssa stayed quiet.

A short, tanned-skinned girl entered the tent. It was Krystal Gordillo, Alyssa’s third-closest friend. Krystal ran her fingers through her dark brown hair. “Stupid wind messed up my hair.” She tied her locks, which fell to the middle of her back, into a ponytail. She sat with Alyssa and the other two. “Does anyone else hate when the weather messes up your look?”

That’s what you want to talk about?” Sydney asked. “Krystal, grow up.”

“Yeah, parties are all about fun.” Lily beamed. “You should enjoy yourself.” She sipped her Sprite. “I’m hoping to get my science-of-happiness badge for Girl Scouts. We get an extra treat if we help others become more confident.”

“But I’m a mess,” said Krystal.

“Better than what Alyssa’s dealing with,” Sydney said.

“What happened?” Krystal asked her.

“For the last time, I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Alyssa, not cool,” said Sydney.

“Yeah, I just got here,” Krystal said.

“Can we just change the subject?” asked Alyssa.

“Maybe you’re hungry,” Krystal told her.

“Yeah. Let’s go get some snacks.” Lily stood up.

The four gathered appetizers and beverages. Alyssa nibbled her veggie sticks and chips, and got up.

“Where are you going, Alyssa?” Krystal asked.

“Bathroom.” She put her coat on and ran back inside the house. But she didn’t need the bathroom—she just wanted a break.

She returned to her room, where ink spelled out “Errol was here” on the floor. Her mouth opened and she panted.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to order the story here.

Writing

I Am Not Like Other Writers…And Let Me Tell You Why

What makes me different from other writers, you may ask? Do you know how writing experts say that all authors must love reading, too? Well, that’s not how I am.

Yes, it might be strange for me to say this, but while I love writing, I don’t love reading. You read that right. I hardly ever read for fun. Usually, I read to enhance something for myself or if I’m forced to—which hasn’t happened in years since I’m out of school and college.

The last year I’ve enjoyed reading stories for fun was 3rd grade. Starting in 4th grade, I’d only read non-fiction for fun. Not much has changed with that since—well, except in 8th and 9th grade. I would only read “Harry Potter” for pleasure. I constantly borrowed the books from my school library. And because I started reading them after the first four movies had been released, I read the novels out of order. It was no problem.

Anyway, another unique trait in me is that I’m not just a weak reader for my age, but I also have younger tastes. I am not kidding. I would often get surprised when I heard about young children reading about characters at least a few years older than them and advancing faster than I thought. There are even complex books for kids who advance quickly, but are appropriate for their ages.

When I heard about a 7-year-old who wouldn’t be caught dead reading Dr. Seuss and read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, I was thinking Caught dead? At that age, I was constantly borrowing Dr. Seuss books from my school library. I also heard about a 4th grader who read about 14-year-old main characters. When I was that young, 14 would’ve been an extremely big number for me, and I would’ve considered myself way too young for that. I am not exaggerating. The first time I read about a 14-year-old character was early 8th grade, and that was “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. I was reading about characters at that age when I was 16. I also read “Judy Moody” when I was 10. I’m, like, the only person who read down a lot—the opposite of many people, children and adults. My mom even had to stop me from reading a certain book for school summer reading because it was too young.

Excluding required stories for school, I’ve rarely read up for fun. I read the 7th Harry Potter book from age 13-14 (I read super slowly and have a short attention span) and where the protagonist is 17. But that was only because it was a bestselling franchise. Had it been at the level of “Percy Jackson” or “Eragon”, I likely would never have touched the book.

Last year, right before turning 25, I was just getting interested in new adult stories. As a college freshman, my classmates would discuss books like, “The Help” while I was far from ready to outgrow young adult novels.

On the bright side, if you write children’s books, reading other stories in your target audience’s age range will help you with your own writing. So, there’s a benefit of reading below your level.

Above all, don’t let others judge you. Be who you want to be. Read what you like and when you want. Hey—it might benefit your own writing.

movie

I Solemnly Swear I am Up to Good Details…for the “Harry Potter” Movies

Unlike many fans, I found the “Harry Potter” films better than the books. I often have either liked the changes or cuts better in the movies, or, at least, didn’t mind them.

There is another post that includes content in the novels. But this post will only focus on the film franchise. It will include details that I noticed in the movies.

1: In “Chamber of Secrets”, there were mostly younger kids as extras

Did anyone else notice that most scenes with Hogwarts student extras had few to no older students (like 5th year and up)? Most looked like 1st and 2nd years, maybe a few 3rd and 4th years. Did the filmmakers have a different vision in mind that maybe most of the older students in the previous movie, “The Sorcerer’s Stone”, were 7th years and there were a lot more 1st years in “The Chamber of Secrets”? If so, that’s surprising (and probably not accurate), especially since they broke child labor laws at least once. In film, anyone under 18 has a mandatory limit of 4 hours on a film set. That’s why many times, teen characters are played by adults in their 20s, sometimes even 30’s (which I think is way too old), but rarely actual teenagers. That’s a different topic, though.

2: From “Prisoner of Azkaban” and on, the students have new uniforms, wear street clothes more often, and the Hogwarts campus looks totally different

Unlike the previous observation above, this reason has been revealed. The scenery looks different, because the filming location was changed from Scotland to New Zealand. I believe it was because they wanted a more fantastic-looking environment. Students are often shown in street clothes when they’re not in classes, because the director wanted to make the kids show more of their personalities instead of just wearing robes the whole time. Speaking of which, the reason the uniform look changed was never explained—I don’t think so.

3: Characters control their emotions far more than in the books

Many people dislike this. In “Order of the Phoenix”, when Harry is talking to Dumbledore shortly after Sirius’s death scene, he is calm in the movie while he is angry and out of control in the book. Most people were disappointed by that and liked his extreme rage in the novel. I, however, thought the film’s portrayal was completely fine. In fact, I’ve always found the characters being calmer in the films than in the books a lot better (no offense, just my personal opinion). I don’t know why. Maybe I feel it makes them stronger?

4: Speaking of controlling emotions, Hagrid and Sirius are calmer in the films than in the books

Well, maybe not Sirius in “Prisoner of Azkaban”, but definitely in “Order of the Phoenix”. I already say why in my other “Harry Potter” post that focused on a lot of the books. If I had thought of this then, I would’ve said that I like movie Hagrid better than book Hagrid. I understand book Ginny being better than movie Ginny if she’s better developed in the novels, but movie Hagrid is far more likable to me than book Hagrid. Why? Because he controls his anger and emotions a lot more in the film franchise. I saw the first four movies before I read the books. I noticed that Hagrid had explosive tempers a lot in the novels, and it didn’t please me. I was often glad when those extreme anger outbursts were cut out of the movies or changed to much calmer episodes. Yes, it’s a significant trait for giants and half-giants. But I’ve always preferred calmer, patient people more. Not just in fiction, but also in real life. Movie Hagrid was closer to my envision. Hagrid may be friendly in the novels, but it’s more emphasized in the movies.

5: Music classes at Hogwarts exist in the movies

Fans constantly point out the lack of core education classes at Hogwarts, such as math, English, science, and social studies. Even though the film franchise doesn’t include liberal arts courses, they do have music classes, such as choir, like that scene in “Prisoner of Azkaban” where the school chorus performs in the great hall, or in “Order of the Phoenix”, where Flitwick is having them rehearse their voices, and in “Half-Blood Prince”, where Flitwick mentions having to teach choir practice. There is also an orchestra in “Goblet of Fire” in the Yule Ball scene and a band playing at the third task in the same movie. I don’t remember any music courses in the novels. But I’m pretty sure there weren’t any.

6: The actors playing Lily and James Potter were much older than their characters

Yet, the crew did not bother to make the characters older in the movies. The actress who played Lily was in her 30’s when they filmed the first movie. The actor who played James was in his 40’s when they filmed the first installment. J.K. Rowling was actually offered the part of Lily, but I think she turned it down. That being said, she could’ve told them that they were only 21 when they died. Unless she wasn’t allowed to, or she forgot, and when she finally remembered, it was too late. Clearly, the casting person had a very different vision of Lily and James. They probably pictured them much older. Once the 7th book was released, readers discovered that Lily and James were much younger than how the films portrayed them. In fact, it’s apparently still a common misconception that they died in their 30’s. The filmmakers had every right to make those characters at least 10 years older than in the books, even if J.K. Rowling demanded that they didn’t. Authors usually don’t get to have any creative control over their book’s film adaptations. J.K. Rowling was one of the few exceptions and it was only because she was an incredibly big-name author.

Anyway, the filmmakers could’ve cast younger actors from the start or when they found out Lily and James’s real ages (which probably wouldn’t have been an option, though), or put youthful makeup on them to look younger, or—just simply made them older in the movies. Nothing would have been messed up as a lot of elements were already cut and changed. Plus, it is common for characters to be made older in the films than in their original sources. This happened with Disney’s “Pocahontas” (and many other adaptations of the same person), 2002’s “Tuck Everlasting”, “The Crucible”, “Percy Jackson” movies, and “The Giver”. The crewmembers probably thought the movies would succeed more and have wider appeals if the main characters were made older than in their original books. Oh well.

So, those are all the observations I had for the “Harry Potter” movies.

Writing

Publishing When You Think You’re Ready, But Really Aren’t

I’ve had such a bad habit of publishing when I thought I was ready, but really wasn’t. Now I have a bunch of books on Amazon that are unavailable, but sadly, still listed because hardcopies stay on retail sites forever. Now I have given myself a rule to not publish paperbacks unless my reviews are great, not just good or decent. But that’s another post.

Before publishing my books, I have pre-tested them to see if they received satisfying reactions. They have. But after I published them, while many reviews were good, the overall ratings were not amazing.

That’s what you want when you publish. Fantastic, wonderful reactions. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve experienced receiving just good enough reviews. And believe me, they aren’t as satisfying as they sound.

So, now I have a second version of one book published and a third version of that story’s sequel on pre-order. It took me seven years to find my writing voice and for it to mature. I’ve had a habit of wanting to share my stuff with the world, even if it was no good. Now I’ve learned to hone and make my works the best they can be before letting anyone see them, unless it’s for editing or critique.

So, before you get excited about letting the world see what you’ve made, pre-test it with others, and see if the feedback is excellent. I mean that. If it’s only okay, you’ll regret your decision later. So, take your time with your ideas.

Writing

Why You Should Wait to Publish a Hardcopy of Your Book

Image from Pixabay

I know, I know. Many people prefer hardcopies over eBooks. Many writers and publishers will say you should have a hardcopy or paperback available with your eBook.

I agree…if you’re satisfied with your reviews. I realized this recently. I’ve published too many premature books that got just okay reviews but not super-satisfying ones. So, I removed them from the market. However, only the eBooks are gone forever. Sadly, the print books will be there for the rest of time. Amazon and other retailers list print versions for third-parties to sell copies, even if the author removed them from the market. And if the paperbacks and hardcovers are listed permanently, the reviews will be there forever.

Now I have a bunch of books on Amazon that aren’t available anymore (except maybe from third-party sellers) but will never be taken down. I hope it doesn’t ruin my reputation as an author.

That’s when I started to give myself a new rule: no print copies may be published unless I have at least a few reviews that are very satisfying—not just so-so. That way, if I’m not happy with the reviews, I can remove the eBook and the listing shouldn’t stay up.

If you’re traditionally publishing, this might not work as the publisher will have the rights. But if you’re self-publishing, then I would highly recommend this, even if you send out pre-publication copies and they’re all satisfying. That excludes people you know personally.

I have an eBook on pre-order and it’s the third time publishing a particular story that has only okay feedback the first time and even the second time, despite the drastic changes I made. I revised and removed even more material in this third edition. I am still nervous about the reactions, both before and after publication.

Hopefully, the reviews will be more pleasing than ever. But if they’re not, I will know what to do.

Writing

Why I Differentiate My Characters from Myself

Image from Pixabay

Many authors base their characters off of people they know. A high percent of people also base their stories off of real-life experiences. However, I am different. I rarely or never do any of those things.

One: I find my life experiences too ordinary and straightforward. Two: I find it more exciting to make them very different from me.

For example, the MC of my novels is Irish Catholic, blonde, and has had a tragic life. I am Indian and Hindu, dark-haired, and has lived a typical life with hardly any tragedies. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 2, so I don’t remember him. My maternal grandpa died when I was 22 but I didn’t cry. I only experienced shocking pain for a few hours. That’s really it for the sad moments in my life.

I could explain my MC’s tragic life. But that is within the novels. You can find them through reviews, excerpts, or if you choose to purchase the books.

Anyway, I find varying and differentiating things far more fun than making them like me. After all, the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same things, even if that meant little to no conflicts. I could be wrong, though.

Differentiating characters from myself also opens more room for growing knowledge, even if that means extra research. If I wrote about Hindu characters, I probably would not have to do as much research. But I would also get bored. And if it’s boring to write, it’s usually boring to read.

While I rarely make characters similar to myself, I never base them off people I know. But that will be for another post. That being said, I do give some similarities occasionally, such as food tastes. Overall, though, I differ from other writers.

Writing

Unintentional Symbolism and Messages I’ve Made in My Writing

Image from Pixabay

Have any of you wrote something and didn’t realize anything significant about your work until long after? I have. They are symbols and messages I didn’t discover until a lengthy time after writing the projects.

For instance, in my first book, “The Frights of Fiji” (formerly, “From Frights to Flaws”), there are mermaid-like women, but with dolphin tails, who sing certain songs as a way of informing others of their presences. Those songs ended up relating to the situations they were encountering or leaving.

In my second book, “The Uncontrollable Curse” (formerly “Wizardry Goes Wild”), my MC wants her dog to attack the antagonist, who is a skeleton. At the time I wrote the story, I tied that dog vs. skeleton situation with historical context—not because of the “dog-eating-bones” stereotype.

Another unintentional message I ended up making in that installment was about history repeating itself. I’m not going to spoil anything, of course (“The Uncontrollable Curse” hasn’t even come out yet), but the book does tie a lot of Puritan and Salem Witch Trials content. My MC is cursed with involuntary magic. When she does it, others misunderstand and become afraid of her. This ties to how people during Pilgrim and witch hunt times were miscomprehended and feared when they were just different. While people who were found guilty of witchcraft were hanged and/or burned, the “witch” (my MC) is penalized for her sorcery by getting detention at school, suspended, excluded from activities, and more (I won’t give away anything else).

I have yet to discover any accidental messages or symbols in my third book. But hey—it might happen.

Writing

Characters: When All of Their Flaws Are Too Hard to Apply

Image from Pixabay

Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.

However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At most, she may do a few wrong things and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.

Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.

One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling her emotions. But I will stop there on that.

Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.

Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However, you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.

Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.

I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.

In Beauty and the Beast, after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her and forces her out.

Spoiler:

At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human, Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.

If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.

So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let that help you.

Writing

On Writing my Third “Magical Missions” Novel

This process has been SUPER difficult for me. I meant that. For two years, I couldn’t finish a single darn draft. Then, last year, I discovered that I needed to start shorter and sloppier. I realized that my progress differed from other writers. I needed to simplify things drastically. While others write 100,000 words and have to cut, I will have to write 10,000 words and then expand. But that’s another post.

Anyway, the first installment “The Frights of Fiji” is available on Amazon here. The second installment, “The Uncontrollable Curse” can be pre-ordered right here. The third novel is currently titled “Enchanted for Eternity” (which might change) and still has a ways to go. I am writing a synopsis for the current draft. I’m hoping that plot can work for the final draft. Really—I just want this project to be done. About 3.25 years of this WIP have passed and I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to quit.

Yeah—finding an exciting plot was sooo hard. Even recently, long after I completed a full first draft from January to February last year (2018), I have gotten bored with some of my plots. However, the one I’m working on actually sounds pretty exciting, even though I’m not done with the synopsis.

But the idea has stayed the same. My main character, Alyssa, is cursed with magic that she needs to learn to control and keep permanently. I’ll release more information once the story’s pretty much done and nearing publication, which might be early fall, as of now.