Today it is my pleasure to welcome author C.K. Kelly Martin to the blog as part of her DELICATE blog tour. In DELICATE (Dancing Cat Books), Ivy is having a difficult time after her boyfriend dumps her right before finals to get laid over summer break. Her second cousin Lucan has enough on his plate what with his mom’s latest sexcapades with her much younger boyfriend and worrying about his friend’s toxic—and possibly abusive—relationship. As both teens try to cope, they begin to form a friendship that might not be what it seems.
Read on for Martin’s guest post about getting into the headspace of characters dealing with tough and sensitive situations so that they drive their own stories.
In my first young adult book, I KNOW IT’S OVER, main character Nick learns his ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his baby and that she’s considering an abortion. ONE LONELY DEGREE’s central character Finn, is struggling to recover from an attempted sexual assault. MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART focuses on a seventeen-year-old boy who is grieving his younger sister’s death, his feelings of responsibility for the loss making him suicidal. In my most recent contemporary YA book, DELICATE, one of the central characters, Lucan, begins to suspect his best friend is physically abusing his girlfriend.
As a writer, whether you’ve ever been in a similar situation or not, emotionally you have to put yourself in the same headspace as your characters. When you’re dealing with difficult topics that can be extremely draining. The above are sensitive issues for anyone to deal with, but the characters I’ve mentioned are all between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, which in many ways makes their situations even more complicated. Adolescence is a complicated enough time without having to cope with pregnancy, grief, or physical or sexual abuse.
Two crucial components involved in writing books like this both involve research. 1. Your characters. 2. The issues they’re facing.
1. In particular you want to know who your main characters are inside out. Everything you can think of—their fears, their dreams, their formative experiences, who their best friend is and why, whether they’re a big-time introvert, life of the party or somewhere in between. You want to know as much as you can about them so that as a writer, when you’re walking through a situation with a character, his or her actions and words are their own and not yours. I imagine the experience is a lot like being an actor. In writing through a character’s eyes you are channeling a whole other person.
For me, figuring out precisely who a character is means doing a ton of thinking about them before I ever begin to write anything down. Often I go to sleep at night hearing their thoughts roll around in my head. During the day I’ll read material that pertains to their interests, their pasts, their family situations or anything else that helps bring them into sharper focus, which brings me to 2. Researching a character’s situation. This can mean reading up on a subject, using your own personal knowledge and experiences, or communicating with experts or others who have direct experience with an issue.
Your knowledge of an issue then becomes a springboard helping you to create a unique situation for your unique character. For example, in DELICATE you’ll see some well-known traits of an abusive relationship in Des and McKenna’s relationship, including McKenna noting how Des is wearing down her self-esteem. But of course each relationship is also different from every other relationship on the planet, its own entity, and main character Lucan’s reaction to what he sees will also be different to someone else’s because of who he is—a fairly well-grounded and perceptive sixteen-year-old who happens to have a serious peanut allergy, and whose mother’s relationship with her younger boyfriend is a sore spot in his life.
But if I’ve done a good job with these two components (as well as the rest of the plot, the other central character, Ivy, and the larger cast of characters who populate this book), hopefully the last thing you’ll think about while reading DELICATE is me in the background. You’ll just keep turning the page.
Win a copy of Delicate on Goodreads here!