Today I have a guest post about where characters come from by Lory S. Kaufman, author of The Lens and the Looker, to share with you. The Lens and the Looker is the first book in the Verona trilogy, a YA science fiction trilogy in which three teens from the 24th century are sent back to 14th century Verona.
“Where do characters come from?” You might as well ask, “Is there life on other planets?” This is a question to give a writer pause.
Lincoln was the first character to materialize, sometime around 1989. Yikes, 1989! I was writing an ensemble piece at the time with, I think, seven main characters in the one book. The characters all went back in time in twos and threes, to different times in history, and their stories were loosely related. At the time I thought I was writing adult science fiction but with teenage characters. I don’t think the concept of young adult literature was that differentiated at the time.
Then life got in the way. Sometime I had to put my writing aside for weeks and months, a few times for over a year. But I never lost the impulse, the need to create . . . to write.
I started taking writing classes and reading books on writing (don’t ask why I didn’t do this earlier). After many starts and stops, by the time I finished the first draft I had a tome of over 240,000 words, or about 800 pages. That’s when I realized I was trying to do what all first time writers do — write the perfect novel that include every scrap of detritus hanging about in my head. I cut the protagonists to three in 2005, and that’s when Hansum and Shamira showed up as composites from all the scrapped characters.
At first I wrote my characters with no specified intention. They just came out of my subconscious and foiled against each other in what I saw as interesting and “telling” ways. When the second draft was completed and reviewed, I saw how a character was contradictory to itself and in subsequent rewrites I would struggle to make changes to make them consistent. It was like sculpting a character out of plasticine. When pushing down to reshape something, a new lump would show up on the other side. I’d attempt to fix one plot hole and another one would take its place. At the beginning of 2008 I took some online classes through Writers Market and met Bonnie Hearn-Hill, a great mystery and young adult writer, and a very strict, but caring, teacher. Her first impressions were that the book is two and a half times too long and I must pick one character to be the central protagonist, having the other two support the other. My daughter, Jessica Suzanne Kaufman, who is a natural and talented editor, became my line editor and actually suggested a way to break the book in two and make two novels out of it. It took a year to accomplish this feat and, by this time, I was, more or less, retired, so I began writing every day.
Convinced I was ready to make my debut, but wanting to do it right, I decided to find the best science fiction editor I could and pay him whatever he asked to read and critique my work. That’s when I found Lou Aronica, a former publisher at Bantam and Avon books and the man who picked five Nebula winners in a row. I was very sure he would read what I had and pronounce it a masterpiece. What I got back was eight pages of general overview notes, ending with, “there’s a lot of work to be done, but I see that something could come out of this.”
Half elated, half disappointed and totally exhausted, I went on vacation for a week. Then I girded my lions for whatever it would take to bring this thing to the next level.
In the process of this next rewrite, I took a giant step back and wrote essays on each character including what their purpose was.
Lincoln was to become a support character. He represented my younger self, as a boy, someone who did very poorly in school and was very frustrated and depressed, but on the outside he was a wise guy. Lincoln’s purpose would be to be thrown into the big bad world and either sink or swim. His character would show that, although people must be able to stand on their own, they cannot succeed on their own. Where Lincoln’s name came from, I think it has to do with Abraham Lincoln, but I still don’t know how. I guess I just liked the sound of it.
I wanted Shamira to be a person who had scads of artistic talent and to show that people who front projects must use artistic people to bring their own visions to life. She is strong, though misguided and jaded at the beginning, and she represented the adolescents who rebel against everything for rebellions sake, but often that rebellion is a sign that people have a hidden spark in them. When real life and a crisis intervene, the life skills their parents and education has taught them come to the fore. As for Shamira’s name, I thought I made it up. When I researched it, after the fact, I found it is Hebrew for protector. Sometimes we hear things and they lie around in our brains for years, till they just pop out. I love that about brains.
Then there’s Hansum. As the main protagonist, I wanted a name that would stick out. Remember the female character in the movie, Dirty Dancing? Her name was Baby and I always remembered it. The character I was writing was physically good looking, tall and athletic, so Hansum just popped into my mind. I was worried it would be seen as cheesy, but nobody’s laughed yet . . . that I know of. Hansum’s talent is that of being a natural leader. Intelligent, but not necessarily an expert in any specialty, his burden becomes having expectations put on him and then struggling to succeed.
When back in time, in the 14th century, he is renamed Romero, and he falls in love with a beauty name Guilietta. It’s not too big a leap to realize that a sub plot of the first series is that it’s in part a Romero and Juliet story. Same city, similar names, close time period. And it’s fun.
It took a year and three more rewrites to come up with what is now entitled The Lens and the Looker. The darn thing has changed into a trilogy. It’s been a long road. You can find out more at www.history-camp.com . You can also “like” the History Camp Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/historycamptrilogy?v=info.
Thank you, Lory! It was rather interesting to learn more about the process of developing the main cast from The Lens and the Looker.