It’s such a pleasure to be here on my blog tour for SKY ON FIRE, the second book in the MONUMENT 14 trilogy. Melissa has asked me to share with you some of my process in terms of character development.
I’m delighted to be asked to dig into a “writer’s topic.” I love story structure and I frequently teach workshops and classes on writing – so it’s fun to get to go behind the scenes with you into some of the craft that makes the series work.
The MONUMENT 14 series features a large cast of kids, from age 5 – 18. In creating and working with such a large cast, I needed to put a lot of thought into making the characters different from each other, so the reader would be able to keep straight who was who!
I had to rely on my gut. That’s the truth. I tried to use a very organic, deep method of finding and developing the characters in the book.
Some of the characters leapt right into being the moment I started thinking about the story. Dean was right there to narrate the book — he emerged, fully formed, into my mind. A few bloggers have asked me why I didn’t make the narrator a girl – after all, most YA books are written for female readers. For me, that was never even an option. MONUMENT 14 was Dean’s story to tell.
Another character that came right to the forefront of my imagination and demanded an audience was Max. Little towheaded Max was basically pulling at my elbow, asking me to make a record of his adventures in the lowlife, backstreets of Monument, CO.
Other characters I drew from people I’ve known in my personal life. For example, Jake is an awful lot like a guy I had a crush on at George School, my high school, though I doubt my mystery man ever got into as much trouble as Jake. And Chloe is based on the kid of a friend. You can bet I’m not saying which kid or which friend. (Chloe’s a bit of a pain in the buttinski.)
When I have trouble with a character, I draw from my background as an actor and improviser Back in the ‘90s (yes, the 1990’s), I developed a process, along with my friend Sheila Head, for developing characters. It began with the body, working from outside in. We would find the physical key for each character – asking ourselves, where did they hold their energy? Was it in their feet? Their arms? Their hips?
And then we’d walk around with our body crimped up or slouched over or tilting off our tiptoes until we located the voice of the character. The voice led to the personality. The personality led to the heart – how did that character feel about the world? How did they protect themselves from others? How did the character love?
Using these tools, I would walk around the little space of my writing office, bringing Astrid or Brayden or Batiste into my body. Yeah, I know, it sounds kooky. But it works.
Another trick Sheila taught me was to go character surfing at the mall. I’d loiter around and watch for people who looked and behaved like the characters I was trying to summon. Then I’d study them. Sometimes I’d even walk behind them and copy their gait. Again, kooky, I know, but when you’re making art – you use what you got. It was using this method that I got a better handle on Alex. I saw a kid who’s posture was so tidy and squared-off – I could see his world-view just from the methodical way he paced the mall.
It was my goal, that by fully living into my characters, they would rise above the labels that any reader would automatically assign. The reader was bound to put labels on, if only to help keep everyone straight. So I knew Josie’d become “the motherly one,” and Brayden would be “the bully,” and Sahalia “the slutty, troubled girl.” The challenge was for me to get to know them so that the details our narrator Dean gave about them would break them out of those roles in the reader’s mind.
I’d love to know if you think I succeeded. And if you think that the characters fell into stereotypes at times… well… let’s blame Dean. He’s the one who stepped up to tell the story in the first place!
Title: Sky on FireSeries: Monument 14 #2Author: Emmy Laybourne
Age Group: Young AdultGenre: Post Apocalyptic
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan
Publication Date: May 28th, 2013
Available Formats: Hardcover, E-Book
The world hasn’t ended…yet.
In this sequel to MONUMENT 14, the group of survivors, originally trapped together in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, has split in two. Most of the kids are making a desperate run on their recently repaired school bus for the Denver airport where they hope to reunite with their parents, be evacuated to safety, and save their dying friend.
But the world outside is dark and filled with dangerous chemicals that turn people into bloodthirsty monsters, and not all the kids were willing to get on the bus. Left behind in a sanctuary that has already been disturbed once, the remaining kids try to rebuild the community they lost. But when the issues are life and death, love and hate, who can you really trust?
Other Books in the series:
See Emmy Laybourne on tour !
Please join Emmy for the rest of her blog tour. Tomorrow’s stop will be Book Haven Extraordinaire.
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