It’s a truth, universally acknowledged that a first draft will be terrible.
Even with world building, character development and solid voices in your head. First drafts are inevitably terrible and mine are no different. If anything mine are worse than average because the book plays like a movie in my head and movies use a very visual language to tell their stories. A lingering look between two characters in a movie can convey some strong emotions, in writing you have to use your words and I’m not going to lie that shit is hard.
I’m much more visual, but lets face it, making movies – especially the ones we see in our heads is expensive and also (I imagine), like the Trad Pub world probably very hard to get a foot in the door. Writing your own book, being it’s master and independently publishing it for people to read is, well, it’s easier, it’s cheaper and it’s a release. Sending your idea out into the world rather than simply letting it build up in your head.
So with the truth that every first draft is, not shit, but certainly not as good as you might think it is, acknowledged. I wanted to share some thoughts on the growth of the Silverdeer characters as I finished the first draft and got to work on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth (you get the idea, there was a lot).
For those who don’t know The Chronicles of Silverdeer is my debut novel (kind of). A rip-roaring fantasy adventure set in the 1930’s it follows Mythotiquarian Anna Frost as she embarks on her first adventure and accidentally sets loose a beast that wants to remake the world for themselves.
From initial idea, with some sort of plot we’re talking 11 years, the germination of that nugget probably started even longer ago. Almost definitely whilst watching one or another of The Mummy Films.
When I look back now, at the changes closest to the finished product, I seem to have convinced myself that only one or two characters really grew, past the initial character building…. but that is far from true, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days.
Silverdeer features an ensemble cast (because I’m a sucker for an ensemble cast, a sucker for a team and a sucker for found family.), it didn’t start out that way though.
Originally there was Anna and there was Jonathan. Jonathan was not the werewolf with a heart of gold we see in the finished product, in fact in the very earliest versions of Silverdeer Jonathan was a vampire. He double crossed Anna and the final confrontation came to a head between the two of them. Anna became a vampire in that version.
Anna had all these points drawn from heroines I love – she was smart, passionate about what she believed in and for the most part didn’t judge a book by it’s cover. She was an ode to characters like Belle, Evelyn Carnahan, perhaps a few from a series I’m trying not to name, Elle Satler, and many others who I’d grown up watching be bold but soft. Intelligent both emotionally and book-smart. The problem was she felt an ode, like fragmented parts of these characters rather than a whole person.
Working through the plot was sticky in places, like trying to drag myself through a swamp full of treacle. If the plot was treacle, Anna (and others) were quickly drying concrete and I knew that I had to dig into her journey. What she learned on the journey; what she lacked and what she gained.
A big part of Anna’s story came from her learning a lesson about being judgemental – as much as she preaches you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – pre-judging is exactly what gets her into the end of the world situation.
A lot of people work this stuff out before they start writing but that’s not how I work. Besides, that’s what draft after draft and editing are for. When I did figure out what she wanted though she blossomed, she became whole and a person unto herself. It became easier to write the parts that required so much more than a visual clue (which would do on screen).
Jonathan was interesting – originally he was a villain. A big villain, manipulating Anna’s feelings to get exactly what he wanted and gain access to the Silverdeer House. The change in him came as I started writing them more fully and rounding them out. Anna and Jonathan have a lot of what I would like to call – old married couple banter. He makes Anna bristle because of his easy charm and Jonathan likes winding Anna up. As I wrote more of them I didn’t want Jonathan to betray her. I wanted him to stick around. I wanted him to be the supportive beam behind Anna as she took on this journey (even if she didn’t want him there to start).
Jonathan again was almost an amalgamation of characters. Then whilst writing up a character sheet for him I wrote his back story and realised Anna and Jonathan were kind of searching for the same thing. A family, people to accept them for who they were. After that Jonathan became the man in Silverdeer we see today.
When it comes to Dottie and Lionel, Lionel is probably the person who changed the least and Dottie the most. Lionel came because I was inspired to have someone who knew Anna’s parents, not someone who would be a mentor exactly, but someone who would give her an indication she was on the right path. Because he came late in the game – when plot and a lot of the building was already done, Lionel did come out of the box pretty much ready and made. – Thought there are still a few surprises where his character is concerned.
Dottie however came out of the box far from made.
The idea for Dottie’s character sprung forth after watching the Grindelwald film. I’ve since divorced myself from the HP franchise but I actually loved the Fantastic Beast movies and I’m sad that I’ve had to part ways with them.
I’m a sucker for couples where one is conventionally attractive and the other is less so – I suppose it’s the sort of Beauty and The Beast dynamic. It’s one of my favourite things. Maybe because I always saw myself as beast, I mean a fabulous beast but a beast. I’ve always loved the monsterous and for a long time the not conventionally attractive men and women have been pretty much considered monsters. Okay maybe that’s a bit far but you get my point.
Anyway naturally I fell in love with Queenie and Jacob.
Queenie then, was a big inspiration for Dottie and I thought her and Lionel would be cute (oh how naïve I was).
As I started to write her Dottie became a bit more Roxie Hart. She was a blonde bombshell a real knockout, who could sing and literally knock you out. She’d also been a librarian. She talked in that 1930’s stereotypical American (‘New York?’) like Lena in Singing in the Rain and she knew when to use her feminine wiles to get her out of trouble.
It soon became apparent that, as it does sometimes as characters take you with them, that the feelings between Dottie and Lionel went only one way. Lionel was in awe of Dottie, enthralled by her and Dottie was nice to him, faux flirting but it didn’t go beyond that. It wasn’t that Dottie wasn’t attracted to men though, she just wasn’t attracted to Lionel. In fact in writing a few drabbles of Dottie’s later life I discovered she was Demi-Sexual.
The face I had for Dottie no longer suited her then….
Did I mention I cast my stories? I do it with all of them, give them face claims – which for those not in the know is basically selecting an actor to play them, it’s something I learnt from the RP and fanfic world and it’s stuck with me. It really helps me because of the whole visual writer thing too.
So I went hunting for a new face, so I could match the words, speech patterns and gestures she would make in my head. Eventually I stumbled upon Dorothy Dandridge. She was perfect and the Dottie we know opened in the palm of my hand.
Originally Anna and Dorothy had both been avid readers and incredibly book smart but giving Dottie the Lionshare of these traits just felt right, which then led to Dottie being the one who needs saving and Anna being the one to do said saving.
Dottie became, like Anna, a fully rounded character and not just a want to utilise a trope I’m fond of.
It’s interesting, in times like this, as I hover around starting the second book to reflect and remind myself where these characters started. Characters are the most important aspect of a story to me. The plot is beats for them to hit, places on a map for them to get to. What’s interesting is how they get there, what path they choose and how they open up along the way.
I really believe in allowing your characters to open up to you. To become, essentially, their own being. So real you could hold a conversation with them (or at least watch them hold a conversation on a screen without having to force it.).
As Silverdeer 2 evolves I’m allowing the characters to direct me around the plot I’ve laid out. There are beats I need to hit but I need them to help me hit them. I need them to guide me along the track, to make sure I tell each of their stories in the best way possible.