Radio Silence: A Character Dissection

I’ve used the word “dissection” so many times in my other manuscript, I can no longer spell it without thinking about it.

One of the main issues I had with my first draft of The Killing Type was letting my MC’s voice fade out. Charlotte took a backseat to a much louder character, and now that I’m in the process of rewriting the book, I realized I’m having trouble hearing her. At first I thought it was just me failing to reconnect to the story.

Here’s where I let the crazy eek out. Are you ready?

When I met Henry, from the other book, I met him. He sat down at my table with his fox skeleton and began speaking to me about the moral implications of medicine. He was, simply put, a pretentious git. The Mortality Vice is his story, and it’s written in first person. I had unlimited access to his mind, past, present, and future. I could see all the doors, and all the possible realities for him. We still chat, even though I’ve finished the draft. We’re making plans for revising. Anna, too, is very much an open book to me, though she’s a secondary character in the story.

I thought my problem was switching back into third person after so long. I’d tried writing The Killing Type from Charlotte’s point-of-view, but each time I felt it was too muddled and messy. I brought myself back, but there was too much distance. Now I’m writing a very close third person, with more of Charlotte’s feelings and inner thoughts broadcast to the reader.

Unlike Henry and Anna, Charlotte is very much an internal person, in her book and in my head. She doesn’t chat with me. She doesn’t tell me what’s happening. Instead, she drops hints and let’s me follow to my own conclusions. She has an isolation that none of my other characters have expressed.

I’m not her confidant: Lizzie is.

Charlotte, like me, is an introvert. She keeps her cards close. The problem with her voice in the first draft stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t honoring her feelings by continuously trying to reach her. She didn’t want to be reached. Lizzie wouldn’t say a word in deference to her friend. When I read over what I’d written in that first draft, I see just how much I got wrong.

There are things Charlotte wants to stay hidden. Things she can’t face, things she doesn’t even tell Lizzie. She’s guarded, and she has every right to be.

I don’t feel like I’m fighting her voice anymore. I don’t feel like I’m dragging out her secrets.  Yes, I’m crazy, and I treat my characters as though they were real people. I finally feel like I understand her, and in turn, she’s been more forthcoming. She’s more present, more involved. We’re not resisting each other, and I have confidence that this time, I’ll get it right.



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Unreliable Narrators, or A Character Study on Charlotte Grimly

Charlotte and I have been spending far more time together lately. Part of my struggle with getting back into The Killing Type was the distance I’d formed between Charlotte’s narrative and the world I created in my second manuscript. We needed to reconnect, but I didn’t know how to reach her again. It’s not like I can call her up and ask her out for tea. Rewriting means needing to go back and rediscover who Charlotte is, and why.

Charlotte first appeared in my college fiction writing class in the short story, The Waiting Room. Though “Waiting Room” Charlotte and Killing Type Charlotte are two different characters, I loved the idea of an unreliable narrator. After all, my childhood mentor, Edgar Allan Poe, used them frequently.

She reappeared in my college thesis on the portrayal of madness in literature. My advisor made an offhand comment about writing a series of “Crazy Charlotte” stories, and the idea stuck. The decision that Charlotte should be schizophrenic seemed organic to her character. In my thesis, Charlotte is effected by what she reads, her hallucinations stemming from literature. In The Killing Type, Charlotte’s hallucinations are repressed memories.

I devoured everything I could find on abnormal psychology. I wanted to get it right.

I’m almost always nervous that I will get it wrong. I’ve a limited experience in dealing with mental illness personally, and I don’t want to criminalize or mock those who deal with it on a daily basis. Charlotte is more than a mentally ill narrator, more than merely unreliable. She’s a person (albeit fictional.) She has hopes, dreams, goals, and yes, secrets.

I was talking Cat about character development and diversity, about my concerns about my characters.

Charlotte is a blonde, green-eyed white girl from the midwest. Cat asked me why.

On the surface, it’s because that’s how Charlotte showed up in my head. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Then I realized Charlotte is this way because in order for the story to work, she would need access better medical care, the ability to see a therapist regularly, to afford the proper medications, to be in a nice, clean facility when the levee breaks.

If Charlotte were Mexican, or Indian, or any other race, it would be a different story. Though schizophrenia occurs equally in all races, the proper attention and care is not always available. The social stigma changes. That’s why The Killing Type didn’t work in its orignal setting (1920.) I didn’t have the materials I needed. Charlotte didn’t have what she needed. She needed to be informed, to be able to take care of herself.

She’s more than an insanity plea.

She’s a veracious reader. She’s interested in her own chemistry. She’s not afraid of how she is, but she still feels like an outsider. She’s still “other.” She loves her job. She grows flowers. She’s schizophrenic, but I’ll be damned if she’s not more than a diagnosis.

I still worry over how Charlotte will be seen, especially considering the things I dredge up from her past and the threat of a serial killer leaving bodies around town. I’m not a doctor, nor am I claiming to be. I took Psych 101 and read everything I could on mental illness, but that doesn’t equate to experience. I can only hope I’ve done Charlotte justice.

If you haven’t read it, and would like to, “The Waiting Room” is linked above. You can also find it under the “Short Stories” tab on the menu bar.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more of these character-centric ramblings, leave a comment below!

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Writing Dark

It’s no secret that I’ve been actively querying THE KILLING TYPE since Spring last year. I still have two partials out in the wide world, but so far, all I’ve received are rejections. They were polite, some had advice to offer, but a handful of things were common: They had trouble connecting to my main character, Charlotte, and the beginning wasn’t working for them.

I’ve already confessed that I’m terrible at beginnings, but something else occurred to me: when I started TKT, I didn’t take the time to get to know Charlotte. I simply ran with my concept. It’s also not my voice.

When I started the first draft, I tried for a 1920’s noir feel. It wasn’t a fit. The story settled into modern-day, and I bashed out a few openings. I got so frustrated writing them that I skipped to the middle and the end, which were more fun. I wanted it to be cool.

I was trying too hard.

I realized the issue wasn’t in the words, but in me. I tried for a light opening; I didn’t let myself go dark, and dark is what I do.

The answer’s been staring at me for weeks, from friends asking advice on making their books creepier to actively taking about brains and autopsy on Twitter.

The opening to The Killing Type is too… commercial. It’s too inauthentic for me. It doesn’t have the edge or the grit I love. My first fifty pages are MUNDANE and that’s not at all who I am!

I needed to sit down with Charlotte and get to know her because I’d rushed into writing this book. I need to stop worrying about how other people will see her and just convey her as she is. I need to not be afraid to embrace the sort of writer I am. I’m a macabre fairy princess, and THE KILLING TYPE is fertile soil for my brand of dark magic.

I see a lot of people worried about writing what will sell instead of writing the story they need to tell. Finding the voice to tell it in is just as important as finding the story. You shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself, outside in the real world or on the page. Charlotte and I are going to get to know each other, and then you’ll all get to know her.

I’m wrapping up THE MORTALITY VICE, slowly. It’s been a whirlwind romance with that one, and I’m going to be heartbroken when it’s done, but it’s time to get back to my first love. I’ll be rewriting my opening pages and giving TKT an overhaul. I’ve got ideas, dark, wicked ideas, and for the first time in months I feel like myself again.

And damn does it feel good.


Filed under Books, Writing

VEDA Day Nine: Hopes, Dreams, and THE KILLING TYPE

In which I discuss my publishing dreams and read you a sizable chunk of my novel. Did this really just happen?

Yeah, it did.

If you’re watching this on my blog, meaning here, click the tabs above to find out more about THE KILLING TYPE.

Want more? Check out my FREE short story, THE WAITING ROOM.

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Filed under Vlog Everday In August 2013, Vlogs, Writing