Yesterday, while at a book signing event hosted by my friends at the Purple Cow bookstore, I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours speaking to, and fielding questions from a small group of reading enthusiasts. The setting was intimate and very comfortable, which made for easy conversation and a terrific time.
Of all in the audience, one young teen, a girl named Kelanie, very politely stole the show with her probing and very intuitive questions. I loved that she was so eager to learn, and unabashedly laid herself out there in order to satisfy the passion driving her need for creative expression.
The usual questions all came, "what was your inspiration to become a writer?", "is your writing biographical?", "could you tell us something about yourself?", all questions I enjoy answering as often as opportunity allows, but then miss Kelanie offered up something that came from deep inside her own struggles as an aspiring writer.
"I've tried to write more than a dozen books, but have been unable to complete them," she said, "...but I always reach a point where my story loses steam and I just can't find a way to keep it going. Does that happen to you? If so, how do you get past it?"
Wow! This is why I love to speak with students! Young people are so fresh, open and eager that it makes for perhaps the greatest reward of my whole writing experience. My mind immediately went to my own first attempts to begin "Search For Yesterday" and the innocent mistakes that contributed to early failures to complete it.
"Can you describe to me your main character Kelanie?" I asked.
"Well," she replied a little bit shy, "...sort of just, ...me, I guess."
Not yet fifteen, Kelanie had run into the exact problem I had as a teen. With only minuscule life experience to draw from in attempting to create a main character, we both found ourselves languishing in the frustrating realization of how "not interesting" we really seem when standing all by ourselves. Actually, I have confidence that she is every bit interesting enough, however, the key error in both of our dilemmas was and is, thinking we are compelling enough figures to drive and sustain the story by ourselves.
Early on in "Search For Yesterday" Kid, finding himself completely alone takes comfort in just having his own voice for company. However, as he passes through the monotonous minutes and hours of the days that follow, his voice alone cannot console him and his need, like ours, for outside contact becomes critical for his survival. In my original manuscript, Kid's story became nearly unbearable to read, for with his gloomy situation alone to dwell on page after page, most readers would say enough and look elsewhere for their entertainment. It wasn't until he finally encountered the Halliday family and began to live again, that he became an enjoyable character, and I discovered my mistake.
By themselves, even super heroes would be boring, so why should I think that a character based on me at the ripe old age of fifteen could possibly be any different. As sympathetic as Kid's situation was, to become compelling, lovable, relatable, he had to have contrasting personalities who he could love, relate to, and be loved or hated by, to interact with.
This discovery prompted me to go back and write in encounters with a baby deer, birds, squirrels, and eventually a hound puppy to fill the void, quietly reminding the reader in those early pages, that even amidst Kid's despair, normal life still existed all around him, and that hope of his own life returning to him wasn't unthinkable.
In answering Kenanie's questions, I simply reminded her that if she wanted her artistic expressions to imitate and feel like real life, then all of the surrounding contributors and characters in her life, good and bad, dull and intriguing, happy and sad have to be not only present, but prominent in her story development as well. With their inclusion, she as a main character will surely be interesting and compelling enough to carry any story to her desired end. Good Luck Kelanie, you were an inspiration to me, and I'm sure you will be the same to many as you strive to reach your goals.