Friday, August 1, 2014

Maggie Stiefvater: Building Characters with Heart

Thank you to Marquita Hockaday for the photo. 

Maggie Stiefvater
is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the novels Shiver, Linger, and Forever. Her novel The Scorpio Races was named a Michael L. Printz Honor book. She has also written the Raven Cycle series among many books for young adults.

For Maggie her primary concern, above everything else, is character.

“For me what really pulls a book through are the humans.”

She notes that what is true for her might not be true for you.

She sees herself not a good writer but a better thief. She can’t create anything from scratch, not characters that actually breath and walk on their own.

She starts with people who have a real human heart and sees it more as creating portraits of people.

You need to know the rules of character building. You can't go around breaking rules without knowing the rules you're breaking. If you know the rules, and break them anyways, then it’s experimenting.

Some rules: 

·      The narrator should be a character who shifts the plot the most. (This rule is very central to commercial fiction.)

·      The narrator should be the character who changes the most. An intriguing character is one who is both internally and externally active.

·      Characters should be sympathetic and relatable ( a rule Maggie disagrees with). You should understand why a character does what they do, but it doesn’t have to be choices you would make.

·      It’s bad writing to write yourself into a character (Maggie also disagrees with this). She believes accidentally writing yourself in is bad writing, but doing it on purpose is creating a portrait of yourself. 

Maggie creates characters subtractively: when she's stealing from real life it’s often a matter of subtraction. From The Scorpio Races she stole from her brothers. One of the characters is very liked by readers, the other is not. So she has one happy brother, one not so much. But if she wrote them exactly as they are they’d be all over the place, so she focuses on the first idea she gets of them, developing the character from there.

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