Character Development

What’s In A Name, Part 2: Assignment 1

week2

Check out the details for this week’s challenge here.


The crystal pins pricked against Niven’s scalp, and her eyes strained in the corners at the tightness of her swept back hair. Normally, she preferred the more relaxed style of the court – the flowing locks, dresses that didn’t suffocate. slippers instead of rigid heels with laces that pinched her smallest toe. But tonight was her brother’s night. His coronation. The highest ranking lords and ladies had traveled weeks to be here. They all had to be at their best. Even three-year old Letta.

Niven smiled as her sister pranced regally behind their mother, greeting each arrival with a clumsy curtsy and a twirl of her skirts. Her smile relaxed into a resigned sigh. To be that free again.

A light finger tapped Niven’s shoulder, and she sucked in a startled breath, spinning around. A half-quirked smile greeted her, and she laughed, bumping playfully into her brother.

“Jumpy tonight, I see.” Stefan swept her a bow, and Niven returned a curtsy. She couldn’t dip as low as she normally did, the boning of her corset digging into her ribs.

“It is a big night, brother.”

“For me, or for you?” Stefan winked and stepped away, letting himself be swept into the meandering crowd.

Surely he couldn’t mean her engagement. This was his night. If their father had orchestrated this night for that… well. Niven didn’t want to think about it.

Trumpets sounded from the dais and the crowd turned in a hushed wave of rolling attention. Niven shifted her way towards the back of the room, weaving through their guests with nods and half curtsies. She would make her way to the front of the hall from the sides of the room. Slip into her spot at the table with out anyone noticing. Niven was good at avoiding attention. Or maybe everyone was good at ignoring her. Either way, her parents preferred it that way, especially on a day like to day.

For me or for you?

Niven frowned, excusing herself as she trod on a young lord’s foot. What had Stefan meant by that? She glanced up at the head table, and stopped. He wasn’t there. Of all people, he should have been right there, standing next to their father. Niven’s frown deepened and a twist of anxiety clenched her stomach. Her father maintained a perfect court mask as he welcomed the lords and ladies to the event, but even from her spot half way through the room, Niven could see the telltale twitch of his left eye. Concern? Or something else.

A cloth pressed roughly to Niven’s nose from behind as a hand yanked her back.

“For Valen!”

Niven’s ears rang from the yell. Sinuses burned, clouding her vision. The room swirled in a blur of color. Someone screamed. Niven tried to scream, but an arm had looped around her throat. Spots joined the clouds in her vision and she tried to kick back with her feet, but she couldn’t find them.

The force at her throat pulled her away from the crowd. Her eyelids fluttered as she tried to keep them open – but they were so heavy. A moan of despair escaped her lips, the failing of her breath giving in.

“Just relax, love,” the voice whispered in her ear. A familiar voice. A warm voice.

“Stefan?”

The light disappeared.

Advertisements

On Writing: Musical Inspiration (Part I)

Two of the main characters in my story Better to Pretend, Jenna and Cory, bond initially over their interest in music. I knew early on that Jenna would be into music – in the opening scenes she clings to her iPod in an effort to tune out her mom and aunt. The thing that surprised me was how her relationship with Cory would evolve based on that interest. It was an unexpected but fitting revelation.

I make up the song and band names in my writing, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t based on bands I am familiar with in the real world. Jenna’s favorite band is Love and Lace, and she swoons over the voice of lead singer Crystal James. She would describe them as an 80’s metal crossover band. They rock hard but also have occasional full orchestrations somewhere along the line of a rock opera. Many of their songs are also completely ridiculous. They have good beats and melodies, but the lyrics are bonkers. And she loves it.

Love and Lace is my interpretation of my own favorite two bands led by the same singer Tobias Sammet: Avantasia and Edguy. It is easy for me to relate these two bands to Jenna’s character because of my familiarity with them. Edguy was Sammet’s original band and they have a fairly 80’s sound. I find Sammet’s voice intoxicating and he has moments that give me chills. There is about a two second moment in the song Superheroes that I anticipate each and every time I listen to the song. Sometimes, I even rewind to listen to that one instant again. I am drawn to the passion with which he sings that one note, and it consumes me.

Image © Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

This moment became reflected directly into Jenna’s story.  While Crystal James doesn’t look anything like Tobias Sammet, nor does the song even mimic the theme of Superheroes, the visceral, all encompassing effect of the music is part of who Jenna is.

As the chorus intensified, I braced myself in anticipation of the scream to beat all screams. That moment when Crystal James exemplified perfection. That moment when nothing in the world would exist save his voice and the shiver I would feel all the way from my toes to my fingers.

Three. Deep breath. Two. Eyes closed. One—

My phone rang…

[Queue emotional conversation with her dad]

…I turned off my phone and crammed my headphones back into my ears. With a deep breath, I restarted Warrior Song and sank back against the tree, hugging Dames of London to my chest like it was the only thing keeping me on the ground.

Drums. Guitar. Chorus.

I held my breath. Three. Squeezed the book tighter. Two. Another tear. One. Crystal James took me away.

~Better to Pretend~

It always amazes me as these moments come to pass in my writing. While the Better to Pretend is still in it’s original draft and I imagine that scenes like this will be fine tuned and hopefully even more powerful, I understand as the writer the feeling from which those words grew. I didn’t know when I started writing Jenna’s story as a novel (originally it was a short story, very much plot based with little character development) how her character would progress. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to describe how a song makes someone feel. It is definitely a mental workout.

Sammet’s other band, Avantasia, is described as his project band. While he still leads the group, it functions significantly on collaborations with other artists. Discovering Avantasia is actually what eventually lead me to Edguy. I came across a song on YouTube called Dying for an Angel by a band I had never heard of at the time featuring the lead singer of the Scorpions, Klaus Meine. I listened a random song by Avantasia because I think The Scorpions are awesome. That one click led me to a slight musical obsession.

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

But that is besides the point. While Avantasia still rocks pretty hard (at least in my sense of how music should rock) they have a decidedly more melodic quality to them. They have also released a legitimate rock opera, and a lot of their songs reflect that styling. In the sense of Jenna’s character, I felt that combining these two groups together would provide the type of outlet Jenna needed for different emotional situations in which she might turn to music. Which is how Love and Lace was formed in my mind. They rock hard – total jams that make you just want to tap your foot to the beat and maybe even smile because you know the band is having a good time. They can pick up the beat and fuel a rage or they can draw out a melody with full orchestration that can transport you into your own world. It seemed like a good fit for someone plagued with the typical teenage hormones.

There is obviously more to Jenna’s story than her obsession with music and the band Love and Lace. But discovering her love for music gave me a base to build her character from, to decide who she is as a person. Better to Pretend is an interesting exercise for me in that I feel like I am writing it backwards. The story was already completed once. I know exactly where it goes and who the key players are. Aside from Jenna’s angst about moving to a new town, character development never moved much beyond describing Mrs. Stokely and her love of books. There were a few glimpses here and there, but it was highly narrative driven. At the time it worked.
As I have been progressing through the novel adaptation, I have found an immense joy in getting to know these characters. I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. Which I think is pretty awesome.
Check back for Part II of this discussion in a few days to check out the music that drives Cory’s character.

In the mean time, here are a couple of my favorite songs by Edguy and Avantasia. Because I can’t resist sharing their awesomeness with anyone. Seriously, you should check them out. 🙂

 

Edguy – Superheroes: That moment that I talked about that I wait for every time I hear this song – It starts at 2:08… just in case you were wondering. Also, this music is completely bizarre and I have no idea what it has to do with the song. But I like it anyway.

 

Avantasia – Dying for an Angel

 

Avantasia – Scarecrow: This is a long one but it exemplifies that melodic quality of Avantasia. There is something about orchestration and using unconventional instruments in a rock band that makes me very happy.