In Character With Tonia Marie Harris

Well, October is finally here and autumn has officially begun. The leaves are changing color, Halloween is just around the corner, and the air holds more of a chill with each passing day. Oh, and it’s character month here in Slushland! Today begins our month long study of what goes into a great character. We will learn how to identify what we love in our characters and what we should avoid by breaking them down. It is my hope that we all learn a little something by the end of the month.

I’m pleased to present YA author and poet, Tonia Marie Harris and an in-depth look at how she approaches characters. I asked ten questions on the subject of characters and Tonia was gracious enough to share some insight. Let’s jump right in like it was a giant pile of leaves.

Why don’t we start with a little bit about your WIP and how it came about?

All of my stories and poetry begin with an image. Last fall, I took my camera and explored the rural area I live in. I found a cemetery in the middle of a cornfield and this image followed me home: A ghost in a purple prom dress, wearing Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers. I wanted to know why she hung around and the story took off from there. I completed my first hairy draft during NaNoWriMo and have written five drafts since, and am still revising as deadlines draw near. She’s become so real to me that during restless nights I wonder if a ghost really did follow me home that day.

What, in your opinion, makes a memorable character?

I love a character who grows with the story. I want my characters to be vulnerable and imperfect. Then I want lots of hard stuff thrown at them so they have to grow, yet accept their not-so-good parts as well. Novelists from Stephen King to Jane Austin mastered this. I lose interest in a book in which the characters always do the right thing or make the smart decisions. On the other hand, I can only stand so much whining and bitching from a character before I want them to be thrown down a well or something.

What makes your character unique?

We meet Evie, my main character, when she’s at her most vulnerable and tragic. It’s been a fine balance to write a girl who commits suicide yet make her someone to care about. I tried to back out of writing that part of her story, but she’s demanding. She shares her story of consequences and sacrifice in the afterlife. Evie compels me with the dichotomy of her personality. Here’s this interesting girl who loses her battle with grief and depression, yet her heart leads her throughout the story.

Who, or what, served as the inspiration behind your main character?

I love a good ghost story and when she followed me home from that little country cemetery, I knew it had to be shared. I won’t lie, it’s been a struggle. I know from experience that depression eats away at your sense of self and creates a void. Teen depression and suicide are on the rise. Darkness and fear exist everywhere we turn- politics, the media, divorce rates, etc. I’m close to a young woman who struggles with all of this. But her ability to see beauty and appreciate the weirdness of life inspired a lot of Evie’s character. Life is dark, and weird, and beautiful. To tell a teen “It gets better” is a half-lie. Sometimes, it doesn’t. But we’re human beings, and that means we know how to do more than survive. We find ways to dance, laugh, and be awestruck. That’s the “better” part.

How important are physical traits or quirks in the creation process?

This definitely varies from writer to writer, much like anything else. For me, I want to know everything I can about my characters. But then I won’t put that all in the story. I leave lots of details out or I take all the fun from the reader. I did describe my antagonist over the course of the story. His taste in apparel and physical movement express his personality. He’s crafted himself that way to keep the characters, and readers, guessing. I’m mad for the bad guys. All of my characters have their quirks. I suppose it’s how I see the world- interesting and odd. I’m getting old and I have yet to meet a “normal” person.

How much of yourself, if any, is in your main character?

I talked about the struggle of writing this novel earlier. It’s the truth. Writing Evie opened up old wounds and poured a little salt on them. But I had to crawl inside that darkness in order to empathize with Evie and lead her out of it. I do think I’ve given her a little bit of my soul. But, oddly, writing this book has been very therapeutic. By putting Evie’s ghost to rest, so to speak, I’ve let go of a few ghosts of my own.

How does your main character change by the end of their journey?

I don’t want to give the ending away but I will say that she became someone I’d want to hang out with by the end of the book.

What can we expect from your main character in the future? Will we see more of them or is their story finished?

Never say never, right? But I consider her story finished as much as a story can be. But that delicious, deviant antagonist I mentioned? I have this feeling he’s not done with me yet. He’s the kind that doesn’t give up or let go.

Name a character who most closely resembles your main character and tell us why?

If I were to compare her to another literary character, it would be Dolores Price from Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. It’s a rare book about a young woman’s depression and recovery. Both Evie and Dolores convince themselves the world would be better off without them.

How would your main character respond if they knew this post had been written about them? (A response from your main character.)

I assumed that when I made my choice and stepped into Lake Caroline that no part of me would walk back out. But it wasn’t over. It was the end of one story and the beginning of another. I came back out a ghost. All I wanted was to be with Ben again. And if I couldn’t have him, then I wanted to stop being aware, stop hurting. Pain doesn’t end after you die. Not for me. But Ben deserves better, and I can give it to him. All it takes is one sacrifice.

We all know how much I love music. Can you share a song which best represents Evie?

I’d like to thank Tonia for stopping by and giving us a glimpse into her creative process. I’ll be sure to share all the glorious details about her book before it hits shelves, title and all. Please stop by and show some love for Tonia at the links below. Come back next Monday when another writer steps in character.

Author Bio: Tonia Marie Harris is a mother, writer, poet, bookworm, and blogger. When she’s not chasing her three spider monkeys, she spends her time revising a young adult novel about life after death and second chances.  Though she began to pursue her career later in life, she hopes to inspire and motivate other writers to put their best book forward. You can find Tonia at her blog, Passionfind, and also over at Hugs and Chocolate where she is a founding member.
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24 comments

  1. I think the best thing for me that will come out of these posts is being introduced to new authors and hopefully their great blogs to follow.

    Tonia, your concept sounds fascinating and I really think an agent—or rather the right agent—will think so too. I attended a conference in NY full of them, and from what I remember of their tastes, this kind of fresh idea is something that would appeal to them. Just make sure you have a killer query and I’m sure when you’re ready you’ll find an agent quickly.

    Brian, I know I’ve already told you this is a fabulous idea and I’m looking forward to the coming posts.

    1. Thanks Jae. I’m looking forward to the coming posts too. 😉 I know they’ll all be great. It’s fun to have friends over and talk. I’m thinking I may have to do it more often.

  2. Brian, thanks so much for hosting me…and Evie. I’m curious to see what other authors do to get inside of their characters, and what their thoughts are on the whole process. I’m going to re-blog this and share. You, Sir, are awesome. 🙂

    Jae, thank you! I have a small publisher interested in the story, and they’re talking about publishing it early 2013. I’m excited and am crafting and re-crafting the story and characters. I want to give Evie, and readers, what they deserve. Your encouragement means a lot(and the hope that there are options.) Thanks for stopping by and reading. You’ve made my day.

    1. Anytime you’d like to come back and talk about Evie and her story, you are most welcome. I’ll be more than happy to shout about your book when the time comes too. You know I feel the same way about you, except you’re awsomer. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share a litlle bit about Evie. You did a wonderful job. Now get back to work. Evie can’t write her own story. 😉

  3. Reblogged this on Passionfind with Tonia Marie Harris and commented:
    Hello Dear Readers. I think many of you know I’ve been up to my earlobes in revisions. Curious to see what I’ve dedicated my time to? One of my new favorite blogs hosted myself…and my girl Evie…today. I talk about my characters, the creation process, and insight into the story’s concept. Plus, I share a song that helped shape Evie’s story. Just follow the link and many thanks. Cheers, Tonia

    1. Oooh, the pressure’s on, lol. I hope the story meets your expectations. 🙂

      Vaughn, you are my mentor, friend, and music-muse. Your encouragement and support are always appreciated.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

    1. I am working diligently with revisions to bring you and Plum Tree Books the best story possible. I am always humbled by your support. I do agree the subject matter is important; Evie’s story means a great deal to me. They always say the first novel is a bit autobiographical and the more I dig in and try to find just the right words, the more I find that to be true.

      Thank you for your time and every opportunity you’ve given me. 🙂

  4. Eeee! “Pain doesn’t end when you die.” I got goosebumps. lol. You are such an awesome writer Tonia–you have great humor and now you’re showing us another darker side. I’m intrigued!

    1. Thank you! When I write about, er, writing, I have to approach it with a sense of humor. I’m a firm believer in the Robin Williams quote: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Writing is a maddening process, so we have to poke a little fun at it.

      My husband says I must have a love affair with darkness, because those are the types of books and movies I’m drawn to. I think, sometimes, we find our best selves on the other side of the abyss. Or maybe I’ve read too much Stephen King and GRRM. 😉

      Your comment means a lot. I appreciate it.

  5. Excellent blog/interview. I’m intrigued! I am drawn to darkness as well. We all have a little darkness in us, yes? I know what you mean about some characters need to fall in a well. When I find a character like that (too much whining, too much stammering, too girly), I usually delete.

    1. Thanks, Karen. Oh yes, I believe everyone has a little darkness in them. I think it adds to our beauty and complexity as humans. Whiny, overtly girly types get on my nerves. I know many teens and am the oldest of five girls. Although drama prevails from time-to-time, they’re too busy getting on with life and its myriad choices to fuss and fret. Although, I do meet full-grown women from time-to-time who I want to throw down that same well–“Oh, your Coach bag is last season and I didn’t straighten my hair this morning?” Oy. 🙂 (Really, I’ve worked with women like this, lol)

    1. Authors are my rock stars, so having you stop by today is on par with getting a hug from Steve Tyler. 🙂

      Thank you, Kathryn. Flawed and quirky characters….ghosts following me home… as long as these elements come across in the story, I am a happy writer. 🙂

  6. Thank you for the excellent post, Tonia! It’s fascinating to hear about how other writers are inspired to write about the characters that they write about. I love a good ghost story, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing this book when it hits the shelves.

    Thank you Brian for such an excellent blog idea. I can’t wait to read the next post!
    -KT

    1. Thanks, I hope we can all learn something new about characters. Some of us, like me, need all the help we can get. 😉 I’m glad you dropped by and I’ll be sure to see what’s going on over at mystic cooking.

    2. Thank you, mysticcooking. I love reading and hearing about the inspiration and process of other writers as well and look forward to reading all about it in coming posts. I appreciate your show of support and my fingers are crossed that when you pick up my book, you’ll love Evie as well.

      Brian scored with this blog idea, I agree. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Daphne. I’m still revising…..the job that never ends. Well, it feels like it now and I know once my editor looks at the story, there will be more to do. But I’m not complaining. 😉

      I do feel like she followed me home. My intention is to photograph that cemetary during the night. I’d love to get some great shots– something surreal and spooky.

      Love Florence + the Machine. 🙂

      1. That sounds like an amazing idea – I bet it would look great. Make sure to post it if you do! 😀

        I just discovered Florence and the Machine about a year ago and instantly loved them.

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