Tag Archives: young adult fiction

The Problem with Puppet Characters ~ Jessica Rising

Let’s just admit it: writers are megalomaniacs. It’s okay, we deserve to be. At least in our own worlds. We control everything that happens within the pages of our stories, from the last breath of a character to the turning of the stars. It feels good to have control over a whole world and every soul in it.

But sometimes we micromanage a little too much.

I have spent so many years trying to figure out how to keep a story interesting, not only in cadence but in plot. Again and again I found myself mired in a storyline knot, unable to break free in the way I’d planned. I’d build the world, focusing on every detail I could imagine from topography to history to social cues. I’d build the plot, knowing every step toward its pre-planned end and why each step mattered. I’d create my characters and give them every personality trait and flaw they needed. My world and characters were SO 3-D in the planning stage. Then I’d start to write… and it would  all go 2-D. Flat. Shallow. Lacking realism, depth, or empathy.

Then I met Squire Carroll and everything changed.

Squire is the heroine of Bight, my first Young Adult novel. At first I made her like all my other characters — molded to fit the plot. She needed to be weak so she could learn to be strong. She needed to be simplistic so she could resonate with every reader. She needed to be ignorant so she could learn to… learn.

In essence, she needed to be a puppet whose strings I could pull to my ends. There was only one problem: nobody empathizes with a puppet.

I began Blight the same as always, focusing on the concept I’d built it on instead of the story it could be. My concept was a society built on religious persecution based in past-lives. Squire was a child of the persecuted, so she would naturally be meek and ignorant. Chapter 1 was written, and it worked just fine. Chapter 2 delved more into the world around Squire… and she was buried in it. I realized then, as I searched for her in the rubble, that I’d made the same mistake I’d made a million times before: I’d turned my character into a puppet.

How could Squire shine as a heroine for all if she was a puppet to anyone,even me?

Think about all the characters you have ever loved. What do they all have in common?

Individuality.

None of them conformed to any of the rules of their worlds. Now imagine being the writer of those worlds. The one who created those rules. Most of us would want everyone to follow the rules we created, even if we told ourselves we didn’t. The rules are there for a reason. They’re there to keep things focused and logical. They’re there to keep the storyline exact. Think about your worlds and their rules. They’re important! Right? You’ve worked on them for months!

But they’re meant to be broken. And the one who should break them — who has to break them — is our hero.

When I realized this, finally, after two and a half decades of writing, I knew what I had to do. It was terrifying, but I had to do it.

I had to let the real Squire loose in her world.

So I let go. I allowed her personality to shine, and I learned that she’s so much stronger than I thought. So much smarter. And so much more… sarcastic. But that’s okay. She’s Squire Carroll, not Jessica Rising. She grew up in a different world than me, and she  knows that world better than I do, even if I created it.

How do you let a character you created free in a world you created? Just write what they say in your mind, ignoring the voices that tell you they’re being too knowledgeable too early, too sarcastic and cynical, too… non-hero-like according to your own perceptions. Ignore those voices, and their true voice will sing through them to tell their story.

A story not unlike yours, but so much more.

Let your character tell their story. They might take it somewhere you never dreamed, but hang on for the ride. Don’t reign them in. They’re the ones who are living it. They’re the ones your readers will follow. It’s their story, not yours. The sooner you realize you’re just taking notation for your hero, the sooner your story will become a whole world of its own, where everyone feels welcome.

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Interview With T.C. Harrelson, author of The Beast of Macon Hollow

What is your book about?

The Beast of Macon Hollow is the story of Will Shepard’s connection to a legendary creature that haunts a small, isolated mountain town. Will has visions that force him to see-and feel-as the Beast embodies its victims’ greatest fears before consuming their souls.  He soon realizes that he must fight to prevent his own soul from being corrupted as he searches for a way to stop the creature’s growing power. Along the way, he crosses paths with seedy characters, power-seekers, and supernatural forces.

I wrote The Beast of Macon Hollow for teens and preteens, ages 10-16. Even though it contains chilling scenes and diabolical characters, at its core, the story is Will Shepard’s journey to replace his insecurities with inner strength. By the way, it contains no foul language or sexual connotations.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

A few years ago, my wife and I were talking about the Beast of Bladenboro — the legend of our hometown. She suggested that I try my hand at writing the story behind the legend. However, once I started, the Beast had other ideas. It soon began to reveal layer after layer of its history and personality until a totally new story emerged. Maybe one day I’ll revisit the original beast and tell its tale.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

The Beast of Macon Hollow is Will Shepard’s story. Fifteen-year-old Will is emotionally broken when he arrives in Macon Hollow; he has just lost his mother to gang violence and his policeman father has been distant and verbally abusive. His arrival in Macon Hollow starts a chain of events that will force him to either overcome his inner fears or be consumed by them.

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth (Liz) is Will Shepard’s older sister. Since their mother’s untimely death, she has assumed the mother role in Will’s life (much to his chagrin at times). Liz is smart, pretty, and eager to help with a good cause (as long as she can play by the rules).

Sixteen-year-old Cate Duncan lives next door to the Shepard ancestral home with her brother Marty. Beautiful, smart, and headstrong, Cate takes some convincing before she accepts the truth about Will’s connection to the Beast. But once she does, Will couldn’t have a better ally.

Seventeen-year-old Marty lives next door to Will and is Cate Duncan’s older brother. Athletic and handsome, Marty is ready and willing to help Will get to the bottom of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the Beast. They often spend their time in the Lookout, Marty’s remarkable tree house nestled within the boughs of a great oak.

Old and full of wisdom, Annie is Will Shepard’s moral compass. She sees what others can’t—that Will has been Summoned for a special task.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

The take-home message of The Beast of Macon Hollow is simple: don’t allow others to define you.

Very often in life, we listen—and believe—the opinions of others to the point of shaping our lives around their perceptions of who we are. And if those perceptions happen to be very negative (as they were in Will Shepard’s case), our lives tend to be self-fulfilling prophesies. I propose a new approach:  look within yourself to understand who you are. Only you can define your life. If you believe in yourself, then others will also.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

Wow, tough question. Beast has quite a few unusual characters. All of which were fun to write for, I must say. But, the most unusual character that was also the most likable would have to be Possum. Possum has a hearing and speech impairment that has made life in the backward town of Macon Hollow very difficult for him. As a result, he is shy and fearful of others. Somewhat of an outcast, you could say. But when kind-hearted Liz commits to teaching him American Sign Language, his heart begins to open. Will and the others will find out that Possum, like so many others that are overlooked by mainstream society, may have a vital role to play in the big story of life. 

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

Easily, the biggest challenge to writing The Beast of Macon Hollow was overcoming a foe we all face sooner or later — time. As an author, I haven’t made it to the point financially that I can write as a full-time occupation. So, it’s a struggle for me to balance my day job, my family responsibilities and my social commitments and still write effectively. But, like we all do for the things we love, I find the time to write. Sometimes, I even make time. I have a machine out back.

Do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write?

Chocolate! With almonds, preferably. And when I’m really serious, dark chocolate. There’s just something about the cocoa bean that sparks my creative spirit.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

(Laughs) Boy, dare I dream about a Beast of Macon Hollow movie? I’d be lying if I said it had never crossed my mind. Seriously, I would prefer unknown actors to play the main characters—the kids. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use actors that haven’t had the mainstream exposure for the other roles as well. With one exception—the role of Rufus Jackson should be played by Michael Rooker. Rufus is a rough-and-tumble native of Macon Hollow who grew up in hard times and now lives even harder through the moonshine bottle. Michael Rooker would own the role.

What one word describes how you feel when you write?

Powerful. I’ve always been a creative person and, in the past, I’ve channeled my creative energy in a variety of ways—drawing, painting, building, attempting to make music. But when I discovered writing, it was like my eyes were opened. Through writing, I can create worlds. I can make and control everything about my creation—the characters, the circumstances of their lives, the town in which they live, who they love, who they hate…everything! Even down to the weather they’ll have a particular day. It’s a very satisfying feeling.

What are you working on right now?

I’m deep into plotting and outlining the next two books in the Beast series. These books will be a continuation of the Beast story but will take Will Shepard in a totally new direction. Some new characters will be introduced and we’ll revisit some old favorites. I have big plans for these books, so stay tuned!

Where can we learn more about your book?

You can read the first chapter here: The Beast of Macon Hollow

You can buy The Beast of Macon Hollow from Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, and other online and offline stores

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Excerpt From “The Beast of Macon Hollow” by T.C. Harrelson

The Beast of Macon Hollow is a gothic thriller written for young adults from 10-16 years of age.

Fate brought Will Shepard to Macon Hollow, an isolated mountain town where time has stood still for decades. And it is there, in the town of his ancestors, that he is drawn into a centuries-old struggle with a legendary creature known as the Beast.

From his first night in the small town, Will begins to have visions…visions that allow him to see — and feel — as the creature. He watches, horrified, as the Beast embodies its victims’ greatest fears and then feeds on their very souls. He feels its hunger, its rage, its evil with every feeding…and must fight to prevent his own soul from being corrupted.

Will soon realizes that, with each victim, the Beast is growing more powerful, preparing itself to begin a worldwide apocalypse. Armed with help from his sister, two new friends, and a kindly mentor, Will must find why he is connected to the creature and stop it before it destroys the world.

But it won’t be easy. A powerful family has profited from the Beast for centuries…and its last heir will do everything within his power to protect it. A secret worldwide society has been watching for the Beast’s appearance…and will stop at nothing to harness the creature for its own evil agenda.

Mysterious catacombs…wandering spirits…fearsome zombies…maniacal enemies…and the Beast! These are just some of the challenges Will must face to find the answers. Ultimately, he will discover that he must look to Macon Hollow’s sordid past for the keys to protect its future…before it’s too late!

EXCERPT:

Will ran red-faced from the dance, following the tent’s long shadow to the rear of its massive structure. The rain had stopped and the moon peeked from behind the clouds, giving some light to grounds. A thick mist had followed the rain and hovered over the field, surrounding the pavilion.

He slowed to a walk and scolded himself.  Some hero he was! He couldn’t stop a little girl! Why did he run out?  Why did he suddenly feel so exposed, so terrifyingly embarrassed and ashamed?  He felt like a fool. He kicked one of the rough stones scattered around the fairground.  How could he be anything but a loser to Cate now?

As he reached the rear of the tent, the sound of laughter got his attention.  A teenage girl was pulling her boyfriend toward a lonely gazebo at the rear of the fairground, her face smiling and playful.  What he would give for Cate to look at him that way…

A rough hand suddenly grabbed his shirt and jerked him behind the tent.  Mule Jackson’s misshapen nose was inches from his as he pinned him to the back of the tent, his feet dangling a full foot above the ground.

“Gotcha!” He grinned, a frayed toothpick clenched in his yellowed teeth. His eyes, bloodshot and bulging, danced with delight.  “Thought you could make a fool out of me and get away with it, didn’t you? You and your big city gadgets and outsider ways. Charmin’ the girls… Well, I got news for you!  Nobody…and I mean nobody…makes a fool outa Mule Jackson. Sooner or later, I get ‘em.”

Pete stood behind him, a broad smile on his acne-marked face. They both looked as if they had made an attempt to be presentable for the dance.  Their usually greasy hair had been freshly washed, Mule’s hanging in long straight strands while Pete’s twisted and curled tightly to his head. Mule reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

“Mule! Fancy… meeting you here,” Will said, jokingly. He found it hard to breath with Mule pressing his diaphragm. “You guys… get all fixed up… for me?”

“A wise guy. He’s a wise guy, Pete.  I don’t like wise guys!” With a powerful yank, Mule tossed Will onto the ground behind him like a sack of feed.  He landed hard, skidding in the soft mud for a few feet before coming to a stop. He lay there, struggling to catch his breath, staring at the cloudy sky.

Chuckling, Mule stood over him menacingly and pulled his knife from his pocket.  Its blade glinted in the moonlight.  Pete stood beside him, both with their backs against the tent, looking at Will’s prone figure.

“I’m gonna carve you up like a Christmas turkey.”  He advanced slowly, bouncing the knife loosely in his hand.  Will thought quickly for a means of escape; if he tried to get up and run, they would be on him in a flash.  His only choice was to get help. Quickly.

He decided to yell as loud as he could and hope someone would hear him over the band.  The couple!  Maybe the couple he saw at the gazebo would hear him.

But when he opened his mouth to yell, a scream pierced the night air! Confused, he watched Mule and Pete as they stood dumbfounded, looking toward the woods beyond him, their faces changing from anger to alarm before his eyes.

Something was happening behind him…

He flipped over, got to his feet, and saw it.

The Beast, black shadows flowing and swirling around its panther-like form, moved steadily toward the couple at the gazebo. It was huge. Easily as tall as the pavilion itself. And it was closing the gap. Thirty feet. Now twenty-five. Getting closer with every second.

The girl screamed again as her boyfriend tried to pull her from the scant safety of the wooden structure.  She stumbled on its wooden steps and fell to the ground.  Panicking, the boy pulled her arm. “Come on! Get up! Run!”

But the Beast, now resembling a misshapen silhouette, was upon them, towering only a few feet from the girl’s prone form.  She stood, frozen in place, as the Beast began to writhe and change, taking on another form.

***

T. C. Harrelson has loved books since he was old enough to hold one in his hands. His favorite genres include paranormal, science fiction, and good old-fashioned adventure. But he’ll take a good story over genre every time.

T. C. began writing The Beast of Macon Hollow on a dare from his wife, who challenged him to write a story on their own local legend — the Beast of Bladenboro. But T. C. soon got bitten by the writing bug and the story of the Beast grew far beyond his original intent. In fact, he found himself trying to keep up with the creature as it kept revealing layer after layer of its personality and history. He is currently writing the second novel in the Beast series.

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