Kelly Creagh, who will lead the workshop "People, Place and Beings: The Spices of an Intriguing Read," at the Writer's Block Festival on November 14, answers some questions about her writing craft.
1) Your workshop is about creating strong, believable characters within a fantastic, enchanting setting. What are some of the techniques you’ll be discussing in your workshop that will help a writer improve his or her character and world building skills?
This workshop is action packed in that I touch base on a lot of topics, including structure, as well as characters and setting. I also explore the purpose and role of “special” characters in a story, or “beings.” The reason I explore so many aspects in one workshop is because I feel that you’re not truly cooking until you can blend all these elements together. And while I touch on each element individually, the deeper purpose ofthe workshop is to explore how all these separate elements—People, Places and Beings—come together with structure and pacing to create an immersive and captivating experience for your reader.
2) What is your process when you are creating a new character? Do you know from the very beginning how the story is going to end for each character?
I seldom know what a character’s arc will be when I begin writing. I may have an idea, something to shoot for while moving forward, but that idea seldom ends up being the character’s true end. I prefer it that way because I feel as if my subconscious is a better judge of what should go into a story and who a character is and will become. In fact,one of my favorite aspects of writing is surprising myself—coming to the end of a story to realize that I’ve said something I didn’t know I needed to. That’s a reward. When my characters relay a truth to me that makes me sit and think to myself, wow, where the heck did that come from?
3) What do you find are some common problems new writers face in character and setting development?
I think consistency is key in both character development and world-building. I also think there should be a sense of wonderment in both. I love mysterious characters and unexpected settings. I think instilling and maintaining a sense of curiosity about both is essential. I think people sometimes set off into their stories with a hard-set idea of who their characters are. In my mind, it’s better to begin the story with a thought of who your character might be and, from there, let him show you who he really is through his 1. actions 2. interactions and 3. reactions. You can outline a character all day long but, just as is true with people, you never will know who you are really dealing with until you place that character into conflict. So, in my book, it’s always better to go ahead and begin a book instead of trying to map everything out beforehand. And that goes for setting, too. Because your setting is often like a character. You won’t truly know where you are in your story until you see how your characters act, interact and react to their world.
4) In the Nevermore books, you use Edgar Allan Poe as an integral character. Why did you choose Poe and how did his works and his history guide your writing throughout your three novels?
I did not choose Poe so much as he seemed to choose me! When I began writing Nevermore, I just had the idea of a goth and a cheerleader getting paired up to do a project in their English class. So this is a great example of what I mean about starting a story before you really even know what you’re doing. Because, in this instance, as I began, the story slowly told me what it was. Poe was a random choice. I picked him because I thought that’s who the goth boy would identify with. I started to do surface research on Poe, just to get the basics. Then I found out about Poe’s mysterious death and read about the real-life figure known as the Poe Toaster. I thought, wow, there’s something here. The last days of Poe’s life had gaping holes begging to befilled—because the man just disappeared for five of them. I began to read Poe’s poetry and his short stories. His works are filled with references to a dream-world. So, I thought, that must have been where he went. Then, through that realization, I got my new “What if.” What if it was all happening again? This time in modern times, to a strange boy who dreams of disappearing but then, like Poe, gets in too deep before someone who challenges everything he knows appears in his life to make him change his mind.
5) In your trilogy, particularly in the third book Oblivion, the setting is cinematic, sweeping the reader back and forth between a dream world and reality. How does a writer attempt to achieve this movie-like style of writing?
Ah! Very carefully! This was a tough thing to get and I should mention here that the third novel was a near-total rewrite. So I think that, sometimes, you have to be willing to get a story wrong (sometimes completely) in order to be able to get it right. Regarding creating a cinematic effect in particular, I think you have to look for interesting ways to show detail. Stay in the active voice, particularly during action sequences. Active language helps you to make your setting seem as if it’s a living thing. Which was one of my goals with Oblivion, since the dream world is such a terrifying place. Also, finding and incorporating those similes and metaphors that not only resonate with your audience, but are something that would resonate with your main point-of-view character. When describing setting, remember to use your third-person-close or first-person narrated character as a lens. How she sees something is often as important as what she sees. That also helps you bring emotion into the scene. When we’re at the cinema,there is often music playing to help convey the emotion of a scene. We don’t have that tool in books, and so that’s why I think handling your character as a lens is important. How she sees something will help convey emotion to your audience and bring about all those feels your reader is after.