Hello! Welcome to our new feature World of Word Craft, our resource for writers and aspiring writers! This week the spotlight shines on the lovely Corinne Duyvis!
A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels and getting her geek on whenever possible. Her fantasy YA debut Otherbound won the Bisexual Book Award and received four starred reviews; Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut” while the Bulletin praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.” Her second book On the Edge of Gone, an apocalyptic YA, releases 8 March 2016. In a starred review, School Library Journal said, “Insightful, suspenseful, and unsettling in its plausibility.”
Your characters, be it Nolan and Amara from Otherbound or Denise from On the Edge of Gone, are wonderfully complex and—like real people—rather unique. How do you approach writing characters? Do they come to you fully formed, more or less? Or do you work towards creating a character that suits the story?
Thank you! I’m so glad when my characters resonate with people :)
In a way, my characters are a mix of “fully formed” and “created for the story.” I tend to start with elements of story and elements of character, after which they sort of bounce off each other. I might tweak the story depending on what the character would or wouldn’t do, or what kind of character arc or moments would be meaningful. Or I’ll tweak and evolve the character if I realize that their personality just won’t work for the story, or there’s a way to make certain elements resonate more.
For the most part, though, the characters tend to develop organically. At the same time as I brainstorm the plot, I’ll be pondering the characters in the back of my head. They’ll gradually take shape. I’ll write down notes, I’ll figure out their backstory, and inevitably things will suddenly click together and make sense. As I write the actual book, they’ll change further; I realize that certain traits might not work, or they behave differently from how I expected. Sometimes I’ll reconsider changing aspects of their personality to fit the story, and other times I’ll rewrite scenes to maneuver the character in line.
Characters are always the #1 most important thing to me, and wanting to do them justice is a large part of what keeps me motivated through the long, long process of writing and publishing a book.
At which point in your writing process do you start giving attention to the overall structure of your novel? Is the structure something that you begin with before you start writing, or do you let your characters guide you where they want to go?
Structure in the vein of the three-arc structure, or Save the Cat? I’ve looked at those methods and plan to study them closer, but to be perfectly honest, so far I haven’t applied them to my books whatsoever.
However, I do outline extensively beforehand. This takes the form of planning events, turning points, and particular character moments, rather than chapters. (Scenes always turn out way longer or way shorter than I anticipated, so I figure I should let that happen naturally and just figure out chapters as I’m writing.)
I particularly need to have the end of the book figured out. I don’t need to know every detail, but I do want to determine (a) the final emotional note, concluding the character arc, and (b) roughly how things get resolved. That way I know what I’m working toward. Keeping the end in sight helps me stay focused.
I don’t stick to the outline obsessively. If plot or characters tell me that something isn’t working, or if I come up with a great idea mid-draft, I’ll take a step back and reconsider my outline. It tends to change an awful lot over the course of the first draft!
On a related note, do you find there is ever a point when your story seems to lose direction? What do you do when this happens?
That point is 60k in.
This has happened in my last four manuscripts.
I am not pleased about this.
It’s not necessarily that the story loses direction—the outline helps prevent this—but that I do. This is typically the point where I start seeing the flaws in what I’ve written so far, the problems in what I still have to write, and what a mess the book as a whole is becoming.
What do I do when this?
Ha! I don’t have a good solution yet. If I can think of a concrete way to address the problem, I tend to try to implement those edits rather than moving forward, because often these edits will affect the rest of the book as well. If I don’t have a solution, I keep writing and hope that I’ll figure it out afterward. It’s usually easier to brainstorm these things when you have some distance.
Your novels’ endings are my favourite kind of endings—messy and honest. They feel so real. Is it difficult, figuring out where exactly your characters’ stories “end” on the page? Or are endings easier to contend with than beginnings? How do you overcome these kinds of challenges?
I don’t tend to have a problem determining where my characters end up. The moment I figure out their central conflict, their arc follows naturally.
Often, it’s not about giving them a happy ending. I don’t see endings as endings. How could they be, given my characters’ ages? I see novels’ endings as characters’ beginnings. For me, it’s all about resolving a particular issue that had kept the character from moving forward, thus allowing them to step into the rest of their life with that burden lifted. It’s about planting seeds for the future.
I mean, I don’t think about it that consciously, but looking back at most of my endings so far, that’s what it comes down to.
I do find beginnings tricky. Not so much figuring out where the story starts, but figuring out how to make it work on the page. Balancing character with plot with hook with worldbuilding … That’s the difficult part. It takes a lot of trial and error. I’ll spend ages shifting around paragraphs, cutting and adding and rewriting. Sometimes, I highlight types of paragraphs in different colors to see how well they’re balanced.
It’s also crucial to have beta readers who don’t know anything about the story yet. I tend to blab about my books at length (sorry guys) but I’m trying to hold back on that so that I’ll be able to get my friends’ 100% fresh opinion on the first few chapters.
The issue of use, misuse, and abuse of people emerges in one form or another in both Otherbound and On the Edge of Gone. Of course, this may just be my own observation as a reader, but it prompts the question: when writing do you have themes or issues in mind that affect the world-building process? Or do these themes emerge as you build the worlds and pen the plots?
Both! Typically, plot and character come first. When I brainstorm and outline the book, though, I’ll often notice aspects of said plot and character that work well together, or that may be intriguing to explore. I’ll realize possible complications, interesting parallels, potential implications.
In other words, I don’t aim for themes, but I do keep an eye out for them. And when they arise, I may tweak the book and character in places to strengthen them. These themes often end up tying into marginalization and identity, as I spend much of my time working on and thinking about those topics. I notice all kinds of things now that I wouldn’t have a couple of years ago, and I figure, why not use books to explore issues that matter to me—and many others?
What is the worst thing your inner critic has ever told you? How did you stop that voice from getting louder?
My inner critic—like anyone else’s, I’m sure—tells me a lot of nasty things. It goes way past just criticizing scenes and plots. You’re a fraud; your books are crap and people will see through it any day now; people will see through you any day now.
I can usually quell those thoughts by focusing on the evidence to the contrary. Reviews, friends, contracts.
The accusations I can’t shut up with logic and experience scare me more; the ones that are about what’s yet to come.
This was the best book you’ve written, and it’s all downhill from here.
This was the last book you’ll ever publish.
You know, cheerful things like that!
It’s pretty much a constant, nagging presence in the back of my mind. What helps is to make sure my enthusiasm is louder than my fear. If I love what I’m doing, if I’m excited about seeing where my characters go, if I’m fresh on a high from finishing another project, it’s easier to put in the work.
Thank you so much for your time, Corinne! We really appreciate it!
Readers, On the Edge of Gone is out today! Go get your copy now! Go! Go!