Love Your Characters, but Not Too Much!

I had been stuck on the sequel to my YA novel Runaway Storm for a long time. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but I knew something wasn’t clicking. After completing almost an entire draft, I had decided the story was too edgy and dark. It had drifted far from the fun boys-against-the-wilderness coming of age storyline into a drug-addled world of abandonment.  No! No! I could not let this happen to my beloved main character David. I threw away about half of the manuscript and re-plotted. After all, what kind of a disenchanted adult would David grow up to be if he lived through so much horror? I slashed the darkness through the pages until it was only ankle deep. No steep mountains, no black bat-filled caves or murky oceans.  And I had succeeded. David would grow up without worry lines etched deeply into his young face. He would indeed be a very fine young man… just not a man of very good character. Oops, I mean, he just didn’t make a very good character anymore. In loving him so much, I had made him unlovable. By taking away all the challenges and dangers, I stopped worrying about him. (Ah, Mom relaxes.)  But as a book character, I had made him bland and uninteresting. A pretty flat character that even I couldn’t care about, so no reader would care either.

It was time to re-examine my intentions. I was now a good mother and a lousy writer. But wait had my worlds merged? Was it truly reality that had intruded into my story and my character? Aha! That was the key. Subconsciously, I think I had transferred my own teenage son into my character. How could I let anything bad happen to either of them? And where is a good “Writing therapist” when you need one?

Fortunately, I was able to figure it out. I had to separate the “real boy” from the character. I had to jump back into David’s head and I had to let him fall off a cliff and struggle to climb back up.  I had to remember that the darker and harder the challenges, the stronger my character would become.

Although I do not want my son to suffer quite so many challenges, I do know that fiction and reality run parallel. Both teenagers, real and imagined, have to grow through their own experiences and learning to fix their own problems, as painful as that can be for both mothers and writers.

This entry was posted in Highs and Lows, The Writing Life, Young Adult Novels by Dawne. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dawne

Dawne Knobbe is an author, editor, Freelance Writer and Publisher. She has a B.A in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Professional Writing. Her work has been published in the L.A. Times, Fairfield Source, Kite Tales and many other periodicals. Her teen adventure novel Runaway Storm, received two Moonbeam Children’s Book awards in 2010. Dawne has a background in advertising as a Copywriter, Creative Director, and Marketing Specialist. She also owns a small press that has sold over 15,000 See into the Sea, Color and Learn books, but you won’t find them in too many book stores. An active Board Member for SCBWI-LA. Dawne leads many writers and Illustrators “Down the Rabbit Hole,” on adventurous writing field trips and works to inspire students, teachers and librarians in her Creative Writing Fun-Shops. If not off adventuring around the globe with hubby John and children Alexandra and James, she now hangs her hat in Huntington Beach, California.

6 thoughts on “Love Your Characters, but Not Too Much!

  1. Thanks Dawne.
    That’s a very good prompt to us parents to think harder about what it means to really love our children. That is, to want what they REALLY need to be come mature people able to thrive in the world they find themselves in, and explore what life has to offer. And yes, perhaps life and fiction are not so far apart. Good fiction grabs us because it operates at the edges (or beyond the edges) of our comfort zones, in the places where we start to lose control, and we re-live our own excitement, desire and fear of being there.

    • Everything you have said rings true to me. And with our own children (the non-fiction variety..tee hee) the edges of our comfort zones can cut like splintered glass, but that gives us the emotional edges that enrich our fictional children:)

  2. I love David and I am glad you figured it out. I know it’s important to let your character suffer. I constantly need that reminder. And you are right. It is probably the mother in me that wants to shelter them. Thanks for the very timely reminder.

  3. Dawne,

    I enjoyed reading your post. In loving your character too much, it is easy to try and shield them from the hard, cold facts of life. Since I am a picture book writer, I don’t have to grapple with MG/YA problems and issues, except in my own personal life. Here’s what I woke up to this morning:

    “Mom, my car got towed last night and Haley is picking me up to get it from the impound lot.”


    “When I left Haley’s apartment, I couldn’t find my car anywhere, but I did see a security guard. He told me to call this number, and they said that I could come and get it for $265.00 right now (1:30 AM) , or pick it up at 8 AM today for $165.00.”

    Ahhh, a discount!

    My son is a fourth year honors college student in the midst of applying to grad schools who will be taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) on Monday. At least he will have his car before then!

    Botton line: Problems are everywhere, and pop up when you least expect them. Our writing should mirror the real world, even though it is instinctual for us to “fix” things. David will be more believable to all of us if we can walk with him through his struggles, and savor his triumphs.

    Keep calm and write on!

    • Too funny. Here is my recent teen reality quote. I was delivering daughter Allie to Dallas Texas for her first year of college about three weeks ago. My husband was out of town so 16-year-old son James was home alone (well as alone as you can be with 3 dogs at your heels.) Last thing I said to him before I left. “James, no more than 3 boys here at a time.” Phone rings that night at midnight Texas time. “Hi Mom it’s James. I kind of did something wrong, I had a little party. Officer Smith wants to talk to you….”
      OH JOY!
      Quote from 18-year-old daughter Allie. “HAHHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA. I leave town and he gets caught first time out!”

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