About Karissa Laurel:
Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between.
Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you’ll find her on the slopes.
Karissa also crafts, paints, draws, and harbors a grand delusion that she might create a graphic novel someday.
You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her blog.
1: Avoiding the Mary Sue.
Simply put, a Mary Sue is a character the author identifies with so strongly that the story is distorted by it. Another way to say it is that a Mary Sue is an idealized character, often but not necessarily a case of the author inserting himself/herself into the story, and/or wish-fulfillment.
If you research the Mary Sue topic, you start to wonder if it’s possible to write a character who doesn’t fall into some Mary Sue sub-category. It’s a long rabbit hole with no bottom and spending too much time dwelling on it means never finding the courage to write a single word. I wrestled a lot with whether or not Solina was simply an extension of myself, fulfilling some innate wish for adventure and magic. In defense of Mary Sues, to some extent all characters and stories are wish fulfillments, aren’t they? If writer’s had no wishes, would there be any stories?
The key, I think, is subtlety and balance, and that comes with practice, repeated trials and failures, learning from mistakes, reading a lot of other people’s writing, and listening to beta readers and editors. Solina was developed in layers, improving in each draft and revision of the story. Sometimes I tweaked, sometimes I performed major surgery, always trying to get her right. She’s probably still not perfectly written, but it’s a goal I always work towards.
2: Giving My Main Character Agency.
One of my favorite blogs is Terribleminds, written by Chuck Wendig. I credit him for introducing me to the concept of character agency. It’s something, as reader, I was probably aware of on a subconscious level, but he was the first to point it out in a way I really understood. His blog post titled, How “Strong Female Characters” Still End Up Weak And Powerless (Or, “Do They Pass The Action Figure Test?”) made me aware of considerations I needed to make, and probably hadn’t been making, when it came to empowering Solina to be a true Main Character.
Wendig says agency is a character’s power to make decisions (i.e. “choices”) that affect the direction of the story. In my own words, it means putting my character behind the wheel and making them do the driving. In the early drafts of MIDNIGHT BURNING, Solina was a lot more passive. Often things happened to her without her say, and she trundled along behind the plot or the other characters like a dutiful caboose. Instead of acting, she was frequently reacting. Over the course of many revisions Solina crept forward and eventually took control of the engine, and the story is so much better because of it.
3: Passing the “Bechdel Test”
My career, both as a writer and in my “day job” has depended a lot on the coaching, mentorship, and teamwork of other women. Portraying positive female relationships (as opposed to “catty” women fighting over a man) was an important feature I wanted to include in this book.
Passing the Bechdel test means having at least two female characters; who talk to each other; about something other than a man. Solina wouldn’t have lasted long without her loyal friend, Skyla Ramirez, an ex-marine. These two women make a pretty unstoppable duo. I won’t say Solina and Skyla never discuss the male characters in the book (sometimes in romantic terms, even), but they are primarily focused on achieving their goal, and their goal is to find whoever killed Solina’s brother and bring that person to justice. I think I can safely say the majority of the interactions between Skyla and Solina exist for that purpose.
4: Respecting the Mythology
World building is so much more than creating imaginary, magical lands in long ago or faraway places. It is not simply a collection of maps and geography. At its heart, world building is the establishment of rigorous rules and parameters that the plot and characters will interface with throughout a story. The more consistently these rules are applied and enforced, the better the story as a whole. Plot holes often result from not respecting those rules, and if not plot holes, then angry readers who don’t appreciate convenient rule-breaking to get around plot problems.
The world I built in MIDNIGHT BURNING relies a lot on Norse mythology. A reader does not have to know the mythology to follow along with or enjoy the story, but for me it was the basis of the law, the rules, the parameters by which I built the world Solina lived in. As much as I possibly could, I stuck to the original myths and tried not to take too many liberties or broad interpretations. When I faced plot problems, I went back to the myths to look for solutions.
I will admit, however, that sometimes the myths were vague, and in those instances, I used them in the way that benefited my story. Once it was written in, though, I tried my best to never change it.
5: Handling Male and Female Relationships
As I said before, the way Solina interacted with Skyla was important to me. Almost as important was how Solina interacted with the two main male characters, Val and Thorin, and how they interacted with her. Okay, yes, the men are both two sides of an Alpha Male coin, but I wanted to avoid overtly negative male and female interactions, unless it was strongly supported by character and plot. And most of the time, I found that plot and character rarely supported it.
Specifically, I wanted MIDNIGHT BURNING to shun sensational violence, especially sexual violence, perpetrated by men against women. And by sensational I mean violence used only to manipulate a reader’s emotions. I also wanted to have Solina’s interaction with her male counterparts, over time, reach a level of mutual equality, if not respect. They may not always get along or agree, but they’ll face each other as equals as often as possible.
I want to say more about how male and female relationships develop as Solina’s story progresses (and as this series progresses in forthcoming books) but I don’t know how to do it without spoilers. There will be a lot of growing and changing and evolving. But if you want to know what influences my thoughts on this issue, see Kameron Hurley’s WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT which changed a lot about how I perceive and write women characters.
I know I haven’t gotten it all exactly right, but writing is a living, breathing, changing pursuit. I hope to continually improve and progress. I expect to never stop trying to be better.
About MIDNIGHT BURNING:
Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in her small North Carolina hometown. But one night, she suffers a vivid nightmare in which a wolfish beast is devouring her twin brother, who lives in Alaska. The next morning, police notify her that Mani is dead. Driven to learn the truth, Solina heads for the Land of the Midnight Sun. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.
As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.
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