It’s not going to be a long blog post this month, because I have precisely five days before I need to be in a car with my husband and all my worldly possessions and heading cross-country to Yellowstone. But being in the thick of several manuscripts at all different stages—one in plotting, one in drafting, and one in editing—I wanted to share some great tips I’ve gathered over the years on jump-starting protagonists. Think of them as icebreakers for authors, only less horrible than real social icebreakers because your characters can't judge you.
So many of my protagonists start out as little more than a suggestion—a role to fill (Mae), a foil to another character (Rou), a catalyst (Celeno). Often, it’s not until I reach the end of the first draft that I understand exactly who that character is and how to achieve their full potential. Sometimes that makes drafting hard, especially when I need a character to make a big decision—by the time I was writing Creatures of Light, I knew, for example, how Mona would react in any given situation. But as I was drafting book 1 of The Outlaw Road, with new characters, I had to do a lot more puzzling. What choices would this character make? How do they handle their problems? How do they react when they fail?
There are lots of great character-building exercises and activities available online and in writers' workshops to help you get to know your protagonist, but I have a few go-to aids that I use when I realize I need to know more about them. Check them out below the jump!
So you know how I said last month that I was finally getting a Wacom Cintiq to replace my external Intuos tablet? Well, I did it! It wasn't an entirely seamless process, complete with the gutting realization that the Cintiq wasn't compatible with my current laptop, but after some setbacks I got it set up in the past week and have started tinkering with it. And with June's blog structured for readers of my trilogy, what better way to break it in than by drawing a bunch of pictures of my protagonists!
While romance isn't the central part of the Creatures of Light trilogy, it's a strong current throughout all three books. Partnerships--both platonic and romantic--play a big role in driving the plot and upping the stakes. And the romances, be they past or present or on the rise, are not simple, sweet things. They're messy, and bittersweet, and at times very, very hard. Some fall apart over the course of the trilogy, some bloom. But they all have an impact, leaving characters different people from who they were before.
So this blog post features an illustrated snippet from each protagonist's first meaningful interaction with their significant other. Some are right there in the text, and some are only hinted at. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead! But I've arranged and labeled them by book, so if you've only read Woodwalker, you can stop without spoiling the rest; likewise for Ashes to Fire. If you haven't read any of them.... get out now while you still can!(Shameless link to book one in the series here!)
See them all after the jump!
Some of you know that Creatures of Light had to be almost entirely rewritten just a few months before publication--particularly if you were lucky enough to follow along my slow deterioration into temporary insanity while on deadline last summer. The book as it exists now was written in about three and a half months. While there are a few snippets that remained the same from the first incarnation to the next--like some of the travel through the cave system, and a bit of the interaction with Gemma's mother--most of it is completely different. Different characters died, different characters fell in love, different countries ended up with alternative political systems. And almost none of it revolved around the protagonist, Gemma--which became the main reason the story needed a complete reorientation.
The book is much stronger now, thanks to the guidance from my agent and editor and feedback from my betas. And one of the many gifts the rewrite has given me is an entire manuscript of unpublished material. Most of it is irrelevant now, but the prologue below still could have happened within the canon of the current book. In it, we see Mona, Mae, Rou, and Colm a few weeks after the end of Ashes to Fire, with Mona sick in bed and still trying to get stuff done anyway. I never truly loved this prologue, because unlike the first two books, it didn't add any extra layers to the story--and again, none of it revolves around the protagonist at all. But it's got a few little fun snippets, and probably still happened in the interlude between books 2 and 3. Check it out below the jump!
Warning: There are some spoilers for Woodwalker and Ashes to Fire included, so proceed at your own discretion!
The Creatures of Light trilogy is complete! Help celebrate the last book in the series by participating in the Creatures of Light Coloring Contest! One randomly-drawn winner will receive a full trilogy set, with author-illustrated title pages and matching bookmarks!
The contest runs from March 12 to April 15, 2018. Get all the details, rules, and, of course, coloring pages in the Coloring tab!
This month, in the lead-up to the Creatures of Light paperback release, I've been producing all kinds of bonus content--including character profiles for a few final main characters. The most significant, of course, is Celeno, Seventh King of Alcoro and sort of the unwitting epicenter of all the messes everybody's sorting through in the series. His character design has remained fairly constant from my early drafts--my mom fan-cast him as Oscar Isaac pretty early on, which has given me a good stable design foundation (as well as a phone gallery full of Poe Dameron screencaps).
For Celeno's official character portrait, I took a video of my Photoshop process, from sketch to finished product. Check it out below the jump:
Quick, when I say Harry Potter, what’s the visual image that springs to your mind?
It’s probably a picture of the protagonists decked out with wands and robes, right? But is that all? Are they drifting in a void? Or do you see the setting around them—vast, mischievous Hogwarts castle, with its shifting staircases and moving portraits? The mysterious library, the murky lake, the rolling grounds?
As writers, we hear a lot about worldbuilding—the art of creating a deep, well-rounded world that provides the physical and cultural setting for our plot. When this is done well, any mention of a story instantly gives the reader a vivid mental picture. But worldbuilding can go a step further! Instead of just being a setting or backdrop for your characters to move through, it can become almost another side character—something that your characters don’t just react to, but interact with. Something that gives heft to the plot and affects the story.
A lot of you have heard me talk about the follow-up novels (emphasis on novels, plural) to Woodwalker as if they were a done deal. Thing was, my editor only originally signed me for two, with the understanding that if my second wasn't unintelligible garbage, he would consider signing me for the third and final installment.
Well, as of today, I can officially share the good news...
HarperVoyager has signed me for CREATURES OF LIGHT, the third and final follow-up to Woodwalker! This book is narrated by Gemma, a character readers will get to know in Mona's forthcoming book, Ashes to Fire.
The manuscript itself is almost complete, though it still needs several rounds of hardcore editing. I hope readers will find it a satisfying finale to this series.
But let's not forget that before we get too worked up about Creatures of Light, we have something much more tangible and imminent---Ashes to Fire releases in less than two months! In between drafting the manuscript for Creatures of Light, I've been putting together some sweet new material for book 2's release. Expect lots of new illustrations and interactive media in January and February! In the meantime, you can go ahead and pre-order the Ashes to Fire ebook, with the paperback launching shortly afterward.
Thanks for all your support! Without the love you've all shown Woodwalker, book 3 never would have seen the light of day. Happy holidays!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator