My very special guest today is Jessica Chambers, a remarkable young woman who has overcome a great deal in order to achieve her dream of being a published author. Her second novel, Dark is the Sky, is garnering well-deserved glowing reviews.
As the story opens, twelve years have elapsed since Olivia and Joel Cameron invited their family to spend the weekend at their new country home. Olivia hoped to provide them all with a much-needed escape from their anxiety over the recession crippling the nation. But the reunion ended in tragedy: Scott, Joel’s wild and outrageously sexy youngest brother, was found dead and the family was torn apart.
Olivia’s sister, Violet, has persuaded her to invite the family back for the first time since that horrific weekend. Violet convinces Olivia that it is time for the family to put the past behind them, some wounds run too deep to heal. Some secrets are too destructive to remain hidden.
Still grieving for the man she loved, Violet is actually determined to uncover the truth about his death — a truth she believes lies within her own family. As a web of deceit and hostility begins to unravel, family ties are tested and no one emerges unscathed.
The Most Important Part of the Writing Process
For me, creating the characters is by far the most important part of the writing process. No matter how exciting your plot, if readers don’t believe in or care about the protagonists, chances are they won’t see the novel through to the end.
Here are five tips for developing characters that will leap off the page and stay with readers long after they close the book:
1. Name. The importance of picking suitable names for your characters can’t be overestimated. Obviously personal experience and the people we come into contact with on a daily basis will affect the associations we have with certain names, but there are also universal stereotypes. You probably wouldn’t find a nineteenth century maid called Cecelia, for instance, or a high society lady called Martha. What about a gang leader called Rupert? I spend a considerable amount of time choosing names for my characters because I think it’s such a crucial component. You’re going to have to spend innumerable hours with these creations, and your fingers will type their names more times than you’ll be able to count. You want to get it right!
2. Appearance. I always like to have a vivid picture of my characters in my mind before I start writing them. For one thing, it eliminates the inconsistency of the villain’s eye colour changing from gray to green part way through. For another, it just makes them feel more real to me. Of course, appearance goes deeper than hair and eye colour, height and build. You need to think about the kind of clothes your characters wear, whether they’re clumsy or graceful, if they have any scars. I know some writers like to sketch pictures of their characters, or cut images out of magazines, so if that works for you, go ahead.
3. Profile. I find writing up a personality profile enormously helpful when it comes to getting to know my characters as intimately as possible. I include everything from background and ambition, to main strengths and weaknesses. What are their hobbies? Do they have any quirks or nervous twitches? This can be a bit of a tedious process, but it’s vital to understand exactly what factors have combined to make your characters the people they are.
4. Conflict. Now you know your characters’ strengths and weaknesses, their deepest fears and darkest desires, it’s time to play on them. Well, it’s far more fun to send your hero into an underground tunnel if he’s claustrophobic. Confront your characters with apparently insurmountable odds, and then help them find a way to overcome them. Your readers won’t be able to put the book down until they’ve found out whether they succeed.
5. Development. The best characters are those who the reader gets to see alter throughout the course of the novel, either due to or in spite of whatever conflict you’ve forced them to endure. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in a positive way. Yes, your protagonists might emerge stronger, more rounded people for their ordeal, but they could equally end up damaged beyond repair. We’re all defined by our experiences, for better or worse, and this should also hold true for your characters.
Jessica Chambers has been inventing stories even before she was old enough to hold a pen. She has a passion for writing contemporary novels packed with emotion, complex relationships, and often a touch of mystery.
At the age of five, Jessica was diagnosed with with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition caused by having either too much or too little pigment at the back of the eye. She attended a mainstream school until the age of nine when she began studying at a weekly boarding school for the visually impaired in Kent. She describes the nine years she spent at Dorton as “some of the happiest of my life.” By the time she left in 2000, she had tried horseback riding, archery, and water skiing, and even experienced her first broken heart. She has maintained lifelong friendships that were nurtured there and earned top grade A- levels in Psychology, English Language, and Law. She also met her partner with whom she has spent the past eleven years.
Jessica currently lives with her family and Staffordshire bull terrier in the English town of Windsor. In addition to devouring fiction of all genres, she loves watching television quiz shows and admits to being extremely competitive when it comes to Trivial Pursuit.
Her debut novel, Voices on the Waves, is a story of love, heartache, and self-discovery set in rural Cornwall. Dark is the Sky is her sophomore effort.
Connect with Jessica at her website or by emailing her: jess (at) jessicachambers.co.uk.
Thank you, Jessica!
Be sure to visit Colloquium tomorrow, Wednesday, April 4, 2012, to read my review of Dark is the Sky and enter to win your own copy!