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Dear Alison,

You talked about character on Monday in your post, Character Development and Food...YUM! I think about character and food a lot. In fact, since the new year, I've been getting up at 5 (closer to 5:15--love that snooze button) to write. I rejoined the #5amwritersclub. (It's open to anyone who wants to write early. READ: Insane and Driven.) This group is an amazing community of writers. They are happy, they are friendly, and they've got a load of character. We often talk about donuts. We always talk about coffee. 

These people have become my Twitterverse friends. We chat throughout the day or continue conversations from the day before or promise to send virtual donuts the next day. In fact, I started this blog post during the #5amwritersclub, but the GIFs didn't want to load quickly, and we know my penchant for GIFs.

The past few years I've spent many of my days substitute teaching. During my preps and lunch, I edit or read. The rest of the day, I interact with a variety of incredibly talented students ranging from the academically gifted to the ones who need a little extra help on their journey to success. The flexible schedule allows me to block off days to attend writing conferences and events. Sometimes, when a teacher doesn't take off in the building I sub in, I stay home and write. Yesterday was one of those days. (READ: Magical and Dreamy.) Picture it, I'm at my desk and it's raining. There's a cup of hot chai off to my right and an incense stick burning on my left.  

The day began as any other writing day…I opened up my WIP and started to read the last scene I had written the week before. The wild, unruly pile on my left had morphed into something scary and alarming. The hungry beast clawed into my writing space maiming brainwaves and elbows. I might not like cleaning, but I knew it was time to wrangle me up some room. During the taming stage, I found notes of inspiration from my kids--I hung them on the wall because as creatives, we need inspiration EVERYDAY! 

I coaxed stragglers into the recycle bin and gentled mustangs into one large herd far away from my writing space. Once out to pasture, I returned to my WIP. It was then I realized I needed to tame my WIP too. My main character took our WIP on an unexpected journey last week, a journey I didn't outline or plan, but there it was in black and white and it made sense. I loved this turn of events--I texted you about it and you embraced the idea, said it was needed in the YA category, and I knew you were right. (Of course, you were.) I got out my journals and got to work. I read through old character maps and made new character maps. I'm not going to show my new character maps up close because I included information from future books in the series, but I will share my process.

I put Gigi, the main character in the middle of the page.  I added the supporting characters, all of whom, directly impacted Gigi in some aspect of her life. I drew lines to connect the characters to each other and to Gigi. I added notes on those lines indicating the nature of the relationship.

Here’s a quick sketch of the beginning character map. Take a closer look at Gigi and Gram. 

I added character descriptions but only those qualities that captured the essence of each character. For this WIP (and for most of my projects), I have two levels of a character’s essence.  
1.) The character I want my audience to know.  
2.) The character they really are.

I know, weird right? But it’s true. A strong character should possess multiple layers. Layers that reveal themselves as the reader travels through the story alongside the character and other layers that will remain hidden for either the book or for most, if not all, of the series.

The character map allowed me to visualize the relationships between Gigi and each of the supporting characters. I could see which characters were most important to her and which ones weren't necessarily essential to the story but played an important role. I didn’t murder any of these darlings, but I haven’t rule it out either. I was able to see the assumed troublemakers, as well as, possible surprise characters that the reader would never expect. 

The character map exercise was helpful and necessary, but I needed a better picture of the entire story. In this WIP, there’s magic, Celtic Mythology, Druids, and werewolves—I needed to make sure I did two things:

1.) Incorporated enough threads of each of these fantastical elements I could stitch together later.
2.) Incorporated enough of these fantastical elements in the beginning and middle of the story.

I didn’t want this WIP to read as a YA Contemporary and then throw in magic and werewolves halfway through, leaving the reader feeling as if she was possessed.

I got out my poster board, my post-it notes, and my trusty black pen, and got to work.

It took all day. I didn’t type one word on the screen, but I felt like the WIP was moving in the right direction and the threads were planted. The pink post-its list the main points of the chapter and the green post-its include the Celtic Mythology, magic, and werewolf touch points.

That new scene that led to all this prep work? I used post-it flags on the side of my pink and green post-its so I could see Gigi’s development on this aspect. (I’m so mysterious about it, aren’t I?”

Here's an old version of the current WIP back from 2012 after I returned home from a Highlight’s workshop. Harold Underdown’s suggested the book should be a trilogy. After chapter/scene breakdown, I realized he was right. Each color post-it stood for a storyline including backstory.

Can anyone say HOT MESS?!?! Whew, the WIP and I have come a long way since then, but we still have a bumpy road ahead of us. I still need to layout the second half of the book, but like Bon Jovi, I'm halfway there!

Tomorrow, I pack up my Chapter/Scene Plot Chart and my character maps and drive to Mt. Top Lodge to meet you. We’ll have our cups of chai and our baked goods and wrangle us up some runaway mustangs.

Sharing the writing love one letter at a time,


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