How to Deal with Evolving Characters


When you’ve been working on a project for a long period of time things tend to change. That’s just the nature of writing, editing, and revising, but a lot of the time the organic and natural changes that occur seem out of your control, beyond your reasoning, and tend to frustrate more than relax. That’s especially true when you’ve been working on a novel for over five years and have grown as a writer and a person in that time.

STAINED started off as the anti-Twilight which meant that I was more focused on a strong female protagonist, a lack of paranormal romance, and a more horror-driven plotline. Beyond that I had basic characters with fairly basic traits that slowly got more fleshed out as I went from rough draft to around draft five. Thing stayed mostly the same even as I began to question my characters and realize that maybe I wasn’t listening to some of them as much as others. If you want well-developed, realistic protagonists, antagonists, and supports then you have to understand them all even if half of what you know about them doesn’t even get put down on the page.

As I grew as a person, I began to see a lot of subconscious issues with my novel. Where was the diversity? Why—in a book that wanted strong, female characters to combat damsels—were my women vastly outnumbered by men? Why did my novel have to conform to the heteronormative society that birthed the first draft when the world and young adult fiction has changed since then? Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of change and diversity, my characters wouldn’t shut up.

Some of them changed gender.

Some of them became bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or gay.

Some of them gained nationalities and race: Chinese, Indian, Russian, African, Egyptian, Brazilian, Polynesian, and, yes, Anglo.

Once the characters told me who they were and where they came from, the narrative changed and I found that I had to learn about new cultures in order to avoid stereotypes and clichés that tend to plague fiction written from foreign perspectives. I wanted to create a world where people’s origins are important, but not the forefront of the story. STAINED is not a story about overcoming adversity in the usual way, and it’s not about coming out or dealing with racism. I honestly believe that with centuries to deal with racism, sexism, and homophobia, vampires would probably be a lot more open-minded in terms of the fact they don’t care as long as you’re strong.

The hardest part has been revising along with the new ideas and changes. Some aspects were completely torn out or changed once gender, race, nationality, and sexuality were thrown into the equation. Chapters were added to develop characters whose voices weren’t being heard properly. I knew that with every addition and new trait added my novel became more unique and true to the reality I was trying to capture in my, well, fantasy. Why do vampires have to be pale, Anglo, straight characters? Why can’t they be more?

I’m hoping to finish up the latest revision of STAINED by the end of this month, and I know that I can’t plan for this to be the last (as much as I hope) because my characters keep speaking to me and telling me that there’s more to the story. It’s my job as the writer to listen and translate as best I can.