Naming the Crew

*Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of suicide and abuse.*

Knowledge of one’s work is vital when writing a book. It is also necessary, when writing a blog about said book, for the readers to understand what the author is talking about. I have been sparse when it comes to characterizations and events in my novel, so this week I am presenting you with a summary of each of the main characters as well as their roles in the narrative. Enjoy!

Note: These descriptions may be subject to change in future drafts.

woman with bun hair wearing hoop earrings and white knitted tank top
Photo by Ana Francisconi on Pexels.com

Charlie

The friendship between Charlie and Sam is the soul of my story. The book focuses on their mutual desire to help each other, and the way those goals conflict due to their differing perspectives on the situation and themselves.
Charlie wants others to be happy. She enjoys making them laugh and does what she can to uphold their joy. This changes when she experiences significant loss and becomes depressed. Pain, anger, guilt, and shame become her mindset, and she deems herself a failure and a burden on those around her, which culminates in a suicide attempt. Charlie believes that any affirmation is a lie because of the conclusions she’s drawn about herself: that she is worthless and a failure.
Charlie’s arc is about recognizing her responsibility for her mindset, and the efforts of the people around her. The things she believes are derived from lived experience, and it makes sense that she affirms them but they keep her trapped in her pain. After her second suicide attempt, she realizes that no matter what anyone else does, or how hard they try to help, she is the only one who can affect real change in her own life. She needs to find her own reason for being. Her time in the hospital also helps her notice the ways that the people around her support her and that, even though they can’t fix things, their efforts and love are not in vain; she comes to value their contributions to her life. Charlie’s journey is not over by the book’s end, but there is hope for her character by the last page.

close up photography of woman laying on table
Photo by chris howard on Pexels.com

Sam

Sam carries the title perspective of the book. The story is as much hers as it is Charlie’s because both girls end up learning vastly different, though equally important, lessons throughout. While Charlie learns to embrace aid and responsibility, Sam has to learn to let go of control.
Sam is a very type A personality. She likes to be helpful and in a position to make decisions and effect change. When she throws herself into Charlie’s situation intending to help, she tries to take control, often at the cost of Charlie’s agency. Her intentions are good, but her methods are damaging to Charlie and herself, to the point where she must be removed from the situation.
Sam initially takes this removal as a failure, but eventually, she recognizes it as what was needed. Sam’s constant pressure on Charlie to open up and be honest about her feelings was running both of them ragged, exhausting Sam and making Charlie increasingly uncomfortable and strained. Their interactions become toxic, and separation offers them both the time and space to reassess their stances and, for Sam, the rightness of her cause. Her arc involves her realizing that vying for control is making actually the situation worse. Sam has to learn to let go of that need, for both Charlie and herself to thrive and regain the healthy friendship they once had.

woman in green crew neck shirt
Photo by Wes Rocha on Pexels.com

Jo

Jo is the situational character on the team. She doesn’t have an arc, but rather uses the experiences from her past to help guide the other character’s arcs. Jo suffered abuse as a child. As a result, she understands the feelings Charlie is experiencing. She has compassion for Charlie and understands her need for self-definition and expression, even as she supports Sam’s desire to help, encouraging it as part of the healing process. Jo’s experiences lead her to demonstrate forgiveness and healthy forms of self-expression and success, as seen in her competitive athletics career. Jo is a visual example of wellness and strength coming from adversity, as well as the calming and soothing influence on the team. Her caring balances health and support, as she shows what someone can become, despite hard circumstances.

photo of woman wearing red top and black bottoms
Photo by Diddy Nadhiri on Pexels.com

Amy

Amy’s arc involves the entire group. Being the most informed character when it comes to depression, Amy has a head-start in knowing what to do and often directed the team, in terms of actions to take. She believes in Charlie’s agency and letting her make the decisions, which often leads to conflict with Sam. The girls foil each other with their different attitudes, Sam wanting action while Amy is more willing to wait and listen, acting only when there is a need for a decisive response.
This dichotomy spurs Amy’s arc, starting with Charlie’s second suicide attempt. Before the attempt, Amy took a step back from her friendship to maintain healthy boundaries and lessen her interactions with the then acidic Charlie. Charlie perceived this as a betrayal and renounced the friendship, but that didn’t stop Amy from helping the other girls decide what to do during the crisis. Sam wanted to send Charlie to the hospital, whereas Amy feared it could spur Charlie towards later action. Sam made the call anyways, eliciting a negative reaction from Amy. She felt undervalued and hurt by the team. Her arc focuses on learning to forgive the team for their actions and not listening to her, despite the outcome and coming to terms with everyone’s unique position in the group, both in their relationship to Charlie and each other.
Amy’s insights and growth help to spur and shape Sam’s character, furthering her journey as well.

grayscale photography of five people walking on road
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Each member of the main cast brings something unique and special to the story. Knowledge, experience, passion and strength, these characters all bring a depth of personality and understanding that shapes their realities and helps them to learn the lessons necessary to their growth. No two members are the same, and their difference brings companionship where they need it. Each member is vital to the team, and I hope I’ve got you excited to see how their roles play out in the end.

As always, thank you for your support and encouragement, and to all the members of my team: y’all are awesome.

Project Status: The rewrites continue.

Editing, the Enemy

When editing, it’s possible to become too attached to the red pen. This results in essential parts of the story being cut from the book because they are not directly informing the plight of the protagonists. This week, I worked through outlining the major rewrites of my project with a focus on cutting out anything that clouded the central conflict between Charlie and Sam. I ended up devaluing Amy and Jo as characters and their roles in the book. Not exactly what I was going for.

hand pen business marker
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Amy’s transformation began with Sam’s. One main thing I learned from outlining my first draft was the necessity of separating Charlie and Sam. The distance helps them gauge their positions and understand their roles in the larger situation and come to their conclusions by the book’s end. In the first draft, Sam and Charlie briefly separate but it’s Amy who steps back from the conflict for a long time. When outlining the current draft, I didn’t want to overload the plot by having both girls leave, so I decided to let Sam go and have Amy stay, not realizing the impact it would have on her character. By removing Amy’s conflict with Charlie, I take away her boundaries, her emotions and her personal stakes in the story.  That diminishes Amy and Charlie’s friendship and is a disservice to Amy’s character.

Jo shares Amy’s fate, though in a different way. Early on, I arbitrarily decided to make her a professional gymnast. I needed a way to remove Sam from the situation on the night of the second suicide attempt and used Jo’s career to do it. The reality is, I know precious little about professional gymnastics, and despite my research, it doesn’t fit well in the timeline of the rest of the book. I decided to remove it, and Jo instantly became less significant than she had been.  Without the meets, she and Sam have less opportunities to spend time together, and without her training, it’s unlikely she’d be as absent as she is. Jo’s athletic journey, marking her success, also serves as a visual statement about how abuse survivors can thrive and become healthy as they grow. Her wellness and coping methods are on display in her sports and even her authority is diminished without her them.

silhouette of woman during dawn
Photo by Murilo Folgosi on Pexels.com

Neither change was made to hurt Jo or Amy; I made the changes to support Sam. I didn’t want the redundancy of having two characters leave the situation, despite their different motives, and thought it made more sense for Amy’s relatively small arc to take that cut, rather than Sam, the protagonist. I changed Jo’s story because I don’t know much about gymnastics and am running out of time to research it properly. I wanted to keep the story focused on Sam and Charlie, and I didn’t realize the cost that that decision had on the other characters, and their arcs and personalities.

Understanding the mistakes that I’ve made is a good thing. It helps me know how to fix it. My mistake was that I did not understand Amy and Jo’s full contributions to the book, and I was trying to make decisions based on that understanding and what would be best for Sam. I didn’t consider the group; I know better now. Amy and Jo are fundamental to the story and cannot be removed or changed without changing everything. I look forward to returning them to full potential.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank you for joining me on my journey and for your input and wisdom.

Project Status: The rewriting continues.

Critique, Vision, and Reconciliation

This week involved coming to terms with my audience, my portrayal of characters, my overall vision and with myself, and how all of these different factors play a role in my book. I had to remind myself why I made certain choices and what they offer to the narrative and accept that people will disagree with my decisions. Humility and being open to critique is necessary for an author, but so is resolve in one’s vision. Change is necessary in editing, but it must never be arbitrary. That was what I learned this week.

white and purple petal flower focus photography
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

It all started with the comment that my book was lacking male perspectives. Thinking about it, this is a valid statement. The main cast is made up entirely of females, and of the two prominent males, one is neglectful and abusive, and the other, though a more positive influence, was on the editing chopping block for a relatively negligible role. This comment got me thinking about my portrayal of males and how it might improve my book to include more masculine perspectives.

The comment brought me back to the main cast, one of which is based on a male. That reality caused me to consider gender swapping the character, and matching it more closely with my experiences.  It would round out the male perspectives of the novel and open the book up to more readers, but it would also go against my authorial intent. I made the decision early on to change the gender of the male member of the main cast, for several reasons, narrative flow and relational openness not the least of which. I made that decision for a reason, and I was hesitant to change it, even though I valued the critique and understood its validity.

agree agreement ankreuzen arrangement
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I brought my plight to different members of my community, including my writing mentor and individuals directly involved in the original situation. With them, I discussed how gender-swapping a main character would affect the story, and they asked me how it would benefit the story to do so. I would have to change several scenes and completely rework a character to make it work, but I couldn’t see how the change would implicitly improve the work. Thoughts of changing other main characters based on females were also dismissed, frankly, because I like their characters and I want to keep them the way they are.

By talking about the issue with trusted authors and friends, I realized how important it was to me to keep the characters the way I envisioned them. I chose to change the character early on for specific and necessary reasons, and it matters to me that I keep those reasons intact. The characters based on my team are special to me, but also different enough from their source material that I can treat them differently and do different things with them. Given my character’s setting and social situation, it makes sense for their friend group to be composed entirely of girls and I wanted to maintain this new dynamic and use it to explore the characters. This isn’t to say I dismissed the advice about men; I outsourced it.

silhouette of four people against sun background
Photo by Dennis Magati on Pexels.com

The critique about the male presence in my book was valid, and I didn’t want to ignore it. I looked into the father figures in the book, and doing so, I realized something about Sam’s father, Mark. I learned that he was more important than I previously recognized. Present mainly to create juxtaposition between himself and Charlie’s father, his role is brief, though supportive, but he also acts as the instigator of a novel-wide project that frames Sam’s character and values. It isn’t an impactful scene, but it leads to one, giving Mark more influence than I initially gave him credit for.  This act saves him from the editing chopping block, underlining him as a subtle yet necessary character and a mainstay in the book.

This week was about seeing my work in new ways and recognizing the way I want the book to be. Different perspectives will always be welcome, but in the end, the final product is my responsibility and my vision. It was strange to be reminded of that, especially since I’ve become so involved in reworking my original ideas into something almost entirely new. But the heart of the work is still the same, and that’s the important part.

man sitting on edge facing sunset
Photo by Abhiram Prakash on Pexels.com

Thank you all for your continued support and presence on my journey, and the ways you challenge me to be better.

Project Status: Rewriting significant portions of the book and condensing multiple chapters into smaller ones.

Purpose, Pain and Progress

Change is essential, even when you hate it. This week has been about embracing the change that needs to happen and jumping off the editing cliff, knowing that it will be for the better while trying to convince myself that it’s true. This week has been about finding and isolating the purpose in my work, letting go of things that don’t serve the plot and make things harder for the reader, and the reality that it is hard to do that. It hasn’t been easy, but worthwhile things rarely are.

blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Last week, I went through my newly completed outline and wrote out the narrative purpose of each chapter. Through this process, I learned that some chapters didn’t have a specific purpose. They were made up of scenes placed in chronological order, that didn’t necessarily offer anything unique to the story, or that offered too much. Other chapters were full of too many important events that were essential to the story, but when concentrated to such a degree, lacked an overall cohesion necessary in storytelling.

Recognizing chapters as disorganized and scenes as dead weight, I was able to re-plan the structure of my book. Initially, with the first four chapters, I started slow, introducing characters and their interactions, establishing setting and context, and setting up a conflict that didn’t pay off. The hook I was using was small and ultimately dismissed, and the story would benefit from a faster pace, so I rewrote the first chapter of the book to include the major plot points of all four. As someone who needs to shorten my novel considerably, it was satisfying, if a bit disheartening to realize how much of my work was hurting the project rather than helping.

broken heart love sad
Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

Cutting out the majority of those chapters opened up a floodgate, and I was able to see things that would need to go in future. A scene where the girls play laser-tag, though tense, fun and engaging, bears no relevance to the overall story. It’s a device to have the characters interact in an unnatural setting and takes more from the narrative than it offers. I, personally really like this scene, and it’s hard to swallow that next week I’ll have to write it out, but the glimpses into the characters that it offers don’t justify the amount of room it takes in the book. It’s a fun scene and does offer characterisation, even insights into the themes, but there are other ways to incorporate them that would flow better in the story.

Change is never simple, and never easy. Acknowledging that much of what I wrote won’t see the end of the project is testing. I know I am making my work better, and through this experience, I have found the confidence to proceed in leaps and bounds, rather than poking along, removing a sentence here or there, but that progress doesn’t remove the pain. But pain, if you get through it, tends to be a marker of better things to come. At least it’s a sign of things we’ve already overcome. There is more to do, but I face it boldly, as all writers must.

green caterpillar on green plant stem
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thank you for your companionship and your support along the way.

Project Status: The rewrites have begun in earnest.

The Benefits and Struggles of Outlining: After The Fact

Working through my outline has been an experience. I chose not to outline at the beginning, so I didn’t have an overview of the project. I spent the past two weeks writing the outline for the first draft of the book, the perks of which are that I don’t have to adjust any previous work to match what I have now, and I was able to write the first draft completely free of mental restriction. Pulling the outline together wasn’t easy though, and this week’s post as about the struggles I encountered and the overall benefits of the work done.

 

color fruit kiwi vitamins
Photo by mv p on Pexels.com

One problem I had was my editing mindset. When I started outlining, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and outline each chapter as I edited. This worked well, up until chapter 15, which is a significant emotional beat in the narrative.  I wasn’t satisfied with the chapter and strongly considered rewriting it, but doing that would affect the rest of my story on ways I couldn’t fully grasp without a full view of the story. I couldn’t change this scene without understanding how it interlocked with everything that came after it. So I decided to finish the outline and correct the book from there. Despite making this decision, my mindset hadn’t changed. In every chapter I worked through, I felt compelled to edit it, despite not knowing if it would appear in the final draft of the book. I didn’t want to waste time, but it was easy to get caught up in the details without realizing. I had to force myself to finish the outline without editing, but that brought a different problem with it.

After Chapter 15, things become more emotionally dense. Charlie’s depression takes a turn for the worst, and all of the characters feel its effects. This is good from a writer’s standpoint but unfortunate for someone trying to write an outline. I would get caught up in the emotions of the chapter rather than focusing on the task at hand, and that slowed my progress dramatically.

closeup photo of galapagos tortoise
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

In the end, I decided to skim over the emotions as much as possible, focusing solely on the events taking place. Now that it’s finished, I have access to a bird’s eye view of the repetition, symbolism, and scenes that should be altered to improve the narrative flow. I realized that at the end of the book, characters begin having multiple dense conversations that could be distilled into smaller ones to make them more digestible and enhance the themes. I also realized that the symbolism in the novel is very lop-sided towards the end of the book, rather than being evenly dispersed throughout, which would make the work more poignant and cohesive. With access to an outline, I can work on long-term planning, as well as recognize the ideas and emotions that are already in play in the current draft of the book.

Outlines are hard for me because I find them creatively inhibiting.  Drafting an outline of a completed book has complications, but with it done, I will be able to manage my time and tasks more efficiently overall, which will alleviate the pressure of running out of time. It will also give me a tangible grasp on what needs to be changed, instead of just a mental image that could potentially be forgotten.

black and white blackboard business chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thank you for your continuous support and encouragement. My journey is better for your presence.

Project Status: Editing is on hold as I rework the story with a paper version of my outline. Beta readers are also in play, helping me to discover what does and doesn’t work from a narrative standpoint. Thank you Beta Readers for everything.

 

If Just One Person Believes In You

The first time I ever posted a story online, it was because of an ultimatum. My sister, seeing my desire to share my stories overpowered by fear of rejection, told me that I could either edit one of my stories and post it, or she would post an unedited story. It was harsh, but it was also the best possible thing for my life as a writer. Since I posted my first story, I have become more confident as a writer, and I have learned to be proud of my work, despite the inevitable flaws.

man in black formal suit jacket
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

When I was young, people would compliment my writing. Their belief helped me accept my talent, and I gradually began to believe in myself. Despite my slow-growing confidence, posting stories online unearthed another layer of terror when it came to sharing my work. The scrutiny of strangers was overwhelming and frightening as I waited months for any response at all. My confidence dwindled, and my ego deflated. When feedback finally did come, it shocked me. They liked it.

Having strangers like your work is a strange experience. No matter how confident you are, it’s unnerving to have someone who you’ve never met look over your work and judge it. You expect their reactions to be negative, and when they aren’t, it’s almost more shocking because of the doubt that crept in in the meantime. Since I’ve started posting, I’ve received lots of feedback, which, on the whole, has been positive. And having that response, from people who have no interest in my success or failure, encouraged me in believing that I have a talent as a writer. That realization has helped me to believe in myself fully.

achievement confident free freedom
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

An evaluation of my work has also helped me to gain confidence. Early in my career, I would write the first draft of a story, think it was amazing, come back the next day, think it was horrible, and I would abandon it. When I sit down to write a story that I know I will want to post, discarding it like that doesn’t come as readily. If I don’t like the work the next day, I focus on the heart of the story I want to tell. Then I rewrite the story, usually three or four times, but in the end, I produce a work that I am proud to show to people. By believing in my story, I find the courage to push through the hard parts and turn it into something that I can come back to and be glad I wrote.

Authorial integrity is about being proud of your work. Not because it’s perfect, but because the story has a message, form or function that it has achieved and, as a result, there is pride in the success. Looking back on old stories that are no longer up to my standards is fulfilling when I see that the story still achieves its initial intent. While confidence is the drive that inspires an author to try, authorial integrity is the force that ensures a work to be proud of, and it is equally necessary for providing new work because it gives the author something to strive for.

apple devices books business coffee
Photo by Serpstat on Pexels.com

When I first started posting my work online, I had confidence, but not a lot of authorial integrity. Over time, I lost that confidence but developed integrity. Now, with my current project, both are coming into fruition.

In recent posts, I have displayed my uncertainty with my book and my desire to do well. This week has been spent finding my confidence, talking with people close to the project, discussing my ideas and where to take them, thinking about how to make this book better. Looking back on my past experiences with confidence crises and how I overcame them through effort, tenacity, and integrity has been encouraging to say the least. I was reminded how far I’ve come, in all of my writing, and I want to do more. My sister’s actions may have seemed harsh, but they have laid the foundation for the work I am doing now and given me the confidence necessary to succeed.

For all of those who believe in me, thank you endlessly for that belief.

And for my dear sister who pushed me off the plank, thank you for believing in me and giving me a reason to believe in myself. I couldn’t have done it without you.

adult attractive beautiful blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Project Status: I am working on re-vamping the outline.

The Chance to Choose

*Trigger Warning: Brief discussion of suicide attempts and the emotional ramifications thereof. Mentions of cutting and self-harm.*

This week has brought me to a crossroads. I’ve known for a while that I would need to make significant structural changes in my book, but I hadn’t encountered the need in a practical sense until this week. This week I hit chapter fifteen, which focuses on Charlie’s first suicide attempt, and here is where the problems started.

road in between grass field under grey sky
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

I wasn’t there the first time my friend attempted suicide; I only appeared later. Since the beginning of my involvement, I was aware of the attempt, and it informed my overall perspective. I was afraid of that attempt and the possibility that it could happen again. Sam shares this fear, and it defines much of her character. Sam fears loss and is willing to do extreme things to minimize the risk of losing Charlie. Currently, Sam’s terror is a direct result of the first attempt, and that terror informs the rest of her growth throughout the book. Sam’s growth relies on this event, whereas I wasn’t present for it.

When I first wrote chapter fifteen, I intentionally dulled the emotions of the scene. I did this for a few reasons: to highlight Sam’s naivety and later her denial, to keep the progression of tension in the book consistent, and to reserve the highest level of tension for the climax, which focuses on the attempt that I was a part of. I wanted to keep the emotional momentum steadily increasing throughout the book, but after reading the chapter, I recognized my mistake. The emotions that should be in the scene weren’t there, and they needed to be. That is the whole point of my book.

green succulent plant with brown pot
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

The issue brings me to a choice. I have several options. I could add tension to the scene, by drawing from my experiences and share those emotions between both scenes. I could remove the first suicide attempt and replace it with the revelation that Charlie is cutting; this would keep the narrative tension consistent with my original plan and would form a basis for Sam’s fears. I could leave the scene as is, which undermines the purpose of my project, or I could change the scene to resemble my experiences by having the first suicide attempt happen before the events of the novel.

Each of these four options has a problem. If I add tension to the scene, I pull focus from the climax and have to rework the emotional landscape of my project. If I remove the attempt, I change Sam’s perspective and approach to the situation; while learning a friend is cutting is awful, a suicide attempt is much worse and inspires the sheer terror that Sam deals with throughout. Option three is unacceptable on all fronts, as the current state of the scene works narratively, but goes against the spirit of my book. Finally, making the scene resemble my experiences seems like the wrong way to go, because it defeats the purpose of fictionalizing the events. I changed the story, ultimately, to remove unnecessary details and preserve the privacy of those involved (blog post about it here). I don’t want to tell the story exactly the way it happened because depression exists in many different ways, and I want my book to reflect that.

The heart of my novel depends on what I choose, but the choice is mine to make. As the author, it always has been. It’s nice to have a choice this time around. I’m not going to waste it.

Thank you for listening and for your continued support.

adult book boring face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Project Status: Editing is currently on hold as I finish my outline and re-organize from there.