Monday’s Friend: Lucie Smoker
Today I am pleased to welcome debut novelist Lucie Smoker to the blog.
By Lucie Smoker
So much has changed in the past few months. Instead of my husband introducing me as “my wife, Lucie,” he now says, “My wife Lucie, the novelist.” Carl must be enjoying this new respectability for his slightly insane other half. He knows that for a long time now, I’ve had characters, like voices in my head. At first I tried to ignore them. Then I started listening, but didn’t do anything about what they were saying. Was I going mad?
Sure I had created these characters and knew that they were vehicles for my own ideas, but I had lost control over them. My characters wanted to say what they wanted to say. They weren’t going to be ignored.
When I started writing down their conversations, their scenes and their thought, the many disjointed ideas started connecting. I was having to write thousands of words a day—driven to it be those characters. They rounded out to become complete people. And I became a novelist.
Yes, there’s much more to writing than listening to voices in your head, but for some of us, that’s a big part of it. We might even consciously create a character, bring him to life, but once he’s speaking, our job is best done by getting out of his way. Letting him speak.
“How did you make the character so real?” is a question often asked by people working on their first book. There are many different methods. People interview their characters about fave foods, sports teams, or the clothes they like, but for me, the key to character development lies in interactions.
Step One: Take any character sketch and place him in an awkward situation.
I’ve tried setting up dates for them, forcing unpleasant encounters with politicos or telephone company reps, and making them clean up an awful mess. What’s his general attitude? How does she talk? Is he shy or confident? Why? Every time your character overcomes an obstacle, they become more authentic. You can start by having them encounter people you know, or having them handle situations you’ve dealt with in your life, but don’t be afraid to move into fictional situations. How would this chacter respond to an armed robbery–a rape?
Step Two: As he starts to form, create situations that accentuate his strengths—and test him.
Create special situations to carbve out those idiosyncracies of personality. One character I created is the ego-centric activist, Jack Thomas. A scene that defined him but likely will never appear in print, is one where he worked for months on a political stunt, only to get arrested before it was complete Other activists pulled it off, no problem—but that’s when I learned just how much he resented that. As I wrote scenes of his processing by police, then sitting in jail, then watching TV in a common room, I learned that his resentment was no minor feeling. This man was truly driven by a need for attention. Sitting in jail didn’t accomplish that. I learned so much about him in that scene; now I needed to write a scene where he was a success.
Step Three: Empower her character to be her true self.
In Jack’s case, I put him in a scene where he climbed a 64-story bank tower to make a political statement. It’s actually in the first chapter of Distortion—but nothing’s done in isolation. What I found in empowering Jack was anger in his ex, Addie Proust. Adele’s anger was something new. I had adored parts of her personality before, but this anger brought out something stronger. By creating scenes where she stood up to Jack—and eventually left him, I created my new protagonist. I learned their common backstory at the same time I defined her anger—or rather SHE did.
Sure, I had created Adele as the “bombshell” who isn’t stupid, evil or blonde. I had purposely set up a woman who could be used to take on sexual stereotypes and female exploitation—but now she was taking that idea farther than I realized. Her anger, which transformed through the story into personal strength, became a rally point for her life. And her life a rally point for the story.
Step Four: Let Him Talk
As Adele moves through stages of the story, I needed a foil for some of her anti-establishment attitude. I needed someone strong for her to stand against. So I created another character, an FBI agent. And then I just let them go at it. With nothing planned, I wrote scene after scene of their having to do one thing or another together. They have polar opposite views on most things, but share a common goal. And then, without my intending it, I watched them fall in love.
Yes, perhaps I’m insane, but somehow I think those character voices in my head need me. My book gives them life. My biggest challenge in writing it was in letting them take the reigns.
Lucie’s first novel DISTORTION is now available in paperback and ebook format.
Catch up with Lucie at her blog, Reverse Perspective.