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Title: Gods of Chaos (Red Magic #2)
Publication date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Jen McConnel
The gods of chaos cannot be trusted.
Since battling her best friend, Darlena’s grip on Red Magic has been shaky. She heads to Scotland after the Winter Solstice in search of another Red Witch.
On a sightseeing excursion with girls from her hostel, Darlena arrives at The Vaults, a mysterious underground city beneath Edinburgh. But there is something there that make Darlena’s instincts go haywire, as she lets loose a defensive burst of Red Magic, putting everyone around her in danger.
If there was ever a time when Darlena needed the help of another Red witch, it was now. But beware the witch who wields Red Magic.
Characters who Bleed: by Jen McConnel
Last fall, I was teaching an 8-week fiction class to local beginning authors, and we spent a lot of time discussing characters. What is it that makes characters leap off the page (or not)?
Sometimes, it feels like there’s a mysterious secret to capturing real characters; I remember that when I started writing, I felt like there must be a magic word, a hidden key, a super special trick known only to the amazing authors who’d already found their voices and their paths. Luckily, that’s not the case; creating characters who resonate with readers, replete with flaws, quirks, and baggage, doesn’t require a magic wand. What it does require is a lot of concentrated effort (as with most things in writing). Keeping that in mind, I wanted to share a few of my character strategies with you to get you started.
First, a confession: my characters don’t start out very real. In fact, for the first few drafts, I’d say most all of my characters (including protagonists) are positively two-dimensional. That’s probably due in part to the fact that I’m a pantser, not a planner; once I’ve got a really messy first draft down on the page, that’s when I begin outlining and digging into character development. It may seem backward, but I’ve learned to trust my process. I guess the reason I’m telling you this is to remind you that the first draft is just the first of many; don’t get hung up on making everything perfect when you first get going. There will always be time to revise.
Character Strategy #1: Know thy characters
Remember when you used to take all those awesome “what color represents you” type quizzes in magazines, or, more recently, on Buzzfeed? Admit it; you still totally love those questions. I know I do! When you’re writing, you have to get ready to quiz your characters. When all is said and done, you should know your characters as intimately as you do yourself (even if only a fraction of that information makes it into your actual book!) How do you do this? Conduct a character interview! There are plenty of wonderful templates available all over the Internet for this, but you can always write your own, too. Get up close and personal; find out the character’s favorite color, song, band, movie, but also take time to learn his or her worst fears, most embarrassing moments, and deepest desires, too. Heck, you could even take the latest personality quiz from the POV of your characters!
Character Strategy #2: Don’t Imitate Life (too much)
People always ask me if my characters are based on people I know. The answer? No, but…
I don’t write characters that resemble my friends and family, but I’d be lying if I said the personality traits of the people I’ve met through my life don’t influence the characters I create. For example, Darlena’s mom in the Red Magic series is a vegetarian (like I was when I started writing the series), she’s happy in her garden (like my great-grandmother), she enjoys baking and quiet, homey things (like my mom), and she’s a passionate social justice activist (like many amazing men and women I’ve met over the years). I borrowed some of her phrases (like when she can’t bring herself to swear in the first book) from different snatches of conversation I’ve overheard, but at the core, Mrs. Agara is totally herself.
Character Strategy #3: Listen to the Voices
I honestly don’t know where my characters come from. Some leap fully-formed into my head and start talking at me before I’ve even begun writing, pestering me to tell their stories. Others take lots of drafts and hard work before they begin to breathe. But by the end of the day, once I feel like a book is ready for readers, the characters who inhabit its pages are usually chattering away in my mind. I refer to them as flesh and blood people (which weirds some people out), and I think that’s vital: I BELIEVE they exist. Belief is a powerful component of writing (and, as any fantasy fan will tell you, magic), and I think the core component of creating awesome characters is believing your characters exist separate from you. It might be hard to cultivate that kind of belief at first, but as writers, that’s exactly what we’re asking readers to do, so I figure we should be able to believe in our characters and our worlds, too!
If I’ve done my job right, you’ll feel like Darlena and the rest of the characters populating the Red Magic series could be walking down the street right now…which might be a bad thing, given how crazy some of the gods of chaos are! ;)
About the Author
Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).
She is also a former reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and a proud member of SCBWI, NCWN, and SCWW.
A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. She's a graduate of Western Michigan University, and she also earned her MS in Library Science at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
When she isn't crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches writing composition at a community college. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.
Follow Jen on Twitter @Jen_McConnel, and visit www.jenmcconnel.com to learn more.