Using Personal Struggles to Build Relatable Characters

A funny thing happened on Thursday. Okay, it’s not funny, it’s actually pretty sad but I used it to develop some character (my own and on the page) so I’m sharing it here. What happened was: Sam Sykes twittered about a book event that evening at the Poisoned Pen that would feature V.E. Schwab and Rae Carson.

Translation: An author I admire was going to host an event featuring an author with books on my TBR list and an author whose books I like at a bookshop a half hour from my home that night.

I said I couldn’t wait. I was excited to go. I had it all planned out in my head.

Then I didn’t go.

If you’ve read more than a couple posts on this blog, you’ve probably seen the face I put on for the world. The confidence, a healthy dose of arrogance, the sarcasm, and/or the general disregard for how ridiculous I seem at any given moment. Usually, that face is my real face. I don’t like masks. But…sometimes, in the course of events, you have to get a little real when you’d rather wear a mask.

So I didn’t go to this event.

I distinctly recall last Thursday after work, lying on my couch, paralyzed with indecision, an hour before the event where I would get to meet three really cool authors. I had plenty of reasons not to go: there were errands to run, meals to prepare. I hadn’t done any writing yet that day. I hadn’t actually gotten around to reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and wanted to avoid spoilers (as this seemed to be a part of the sequel’s release tour). The shop is 30 minutes away and I’d be driving in rush hour traffic. The GOP Debate was on at the same time I wanted to spend my whole night utterly terrified for the country (they did not fail me).

But it sounded fun. And I really did want to go.

A whole bunch of thoughts ran through my mind on that couch: I had said I would go. I had said I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t go back on something I had said, without thinking, to a stranger on the internet, right? I didn’t even know about the event until 5 hours before it started, what if attendance was poor and someone followed up with me asking why I wasn’t there? Oh my god, it’s Sam Sykes and Victoria Schwab and Rae Carson. It’s going to be a packed house. No one will miss you.

No one will miss you.

So I went to the store. I came home and had chips and cheap queso for dinner and watched a Team Starkid production on YouTube because they always make me laugh. And I wrote. I made up for what I didn’t do that morning–the primary excuse I pulled out of my bag of lame excuses not to go see three really cool authors in person.

No one will miss you.

I passed up one of the reasons I joined Twitter: to hear about this kind of thing and go connect with people in real life that I have connected with online! And I will always remember being paralyzed on my couch, wanting desperately to get in my car and just drive to The Poisoned Pen and wait, no matter how early I was, just as long as I couldn’t change my mind.

So where does the character development come in? None of those authors knows who I am and I didn’t make plans with anyone I do know so there are no personal apologies or excuses to be made.

Personally, I should have known better. Same-day plan changes usually end up like this. I want to go but I can’t quite force myself to be that flexible. Couch, meet paralyzed-with-fear.

On the bright side, I think I have tapped a well of resources for my protagonist, Dawn. I spent my evening writing Dawn, who defines herself in relation to her bright star of a sister, Sky. Where Sky shines, Dawn is in shadow. Where Sky is ambitious and has detailed plans for her future, Dawn is uncertain and more likely to go along for the ride. 

In the way they are written now, Dawn is currently overshadowed as a character by her sister, largely due to her lack of direction for her own life. It’s hard to fill in empty spaces for a character who doesn’t know how to fill them in herself. But, anxiety about her future is extremely fitting, given how uncertain it is and how insecure she is. I can use this experience of mine to give character to her as I rebuild my draft.

Because Dawn sometimes feels like no one would miss her, not even Sky.

So, the night wasn’t a total wash.

Moral of the story: Even in your darker moments, you can find inspiration for your stories and the people within them. If you can create your characters from your own emotions or experiences, readers will be able to relate those characters’ struggles to their own. And that’s kind of the point, right?

It was a packed house, by the way. I saw the pictures on Twitter and I’m so happy for all three of those awesome authors. I’ll be sure to catch them the next time (as long as I have advanced notice).

By the way, you should check out these books from the authors I missed because they’re awesome!

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Author: V. Kane

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @ValkyrieWriting or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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