Today I welcome one of my good writing buddies, Icy Sedgwick. Some of you might already be familiar with her fiction from Friday Flash (and if you aren't, shame on you) but she's also got a Western novel out, entitled The Guns of Retribution. Thanks for stopping by, lady, and over to you...
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One of the questions I'm often asked is "How do you come up with your characters?" It's a tricky question because every character is different, and I don't follow a set formula to generating characters for various roles within a story. Having said that, having strong characters is a crucial part of a story's success, since these creations need to be able to carry your story - especially if you've chosen a first person viewpoint, and the character is essentially telling the story themselves.
I first had an idea to write a gunslinger several years ago. I never got any further than the opening lines of a story, but I knew I wanted to use him in some way. He got mothballed while other, more concrete, projects came along, and I didn't think about my gunslinger any more until the closing weeks of 2010.
I got an email asking if I'd like to write a story of revenge for submission to an independent press. I had several genres to choose from, and remembering my gunslinger, I chose the Western. Coming up with the basic plot was easy enough - Grey O'Donnell comes back to his hometown of Retribution, Arizona, after six years away, and has to confront an old bully, Jasper Roberts, who has risen to the position of sheriff. In the version of The Guns of Retribution that got published in September 2011, Grey is a bounty hunter. What a lot of people don't realise is he started out life as an outlaw.
Grey O'Donnell was originally a train robber, but in the mould of Robin Hood. He'd never steal from anyone who didn't have enough they could afford to lose, and despite his illegal activities, he was a gentleman to everyone he encountered. His companions, the young and enthusiastic Billy Cole, and the stalwart Apache Mahko, were still there, but this time they comprised his 'gang'. About a third of the way into the story, Grey took me aside for a quiet word. He told me that three men weren't really enough to rob trains, and really, he wasn't cut out to be an outlaw. Couldn't he do something else instead?
I sat back and looked at his actions so far. He was very keen on a sense of "right" and "wrong", but he was no lawman, especially not going up against a crooked sheriff. Grey smirked and suggested the role of 'bounty hunter'. Thus his profession was changed, along with his reasons for being back in the vicinity of Retribution. After all, it never sat right that an outlaw would leave his hometown, and travel across the country, only to come back to his old stamping ground to continue his life of crime. A bounty hunter in pursuit of his next pay cheque wouldn't have as many misgivings.
Grey's occupation wasn't the only thing that changed. I started out writing in the first person, but in present tense, as Grey told the story as if it were happening now. Around the time his occupation changed, I switched the entire story into third person, past tense. It gave me more room to be more flamboyant with language. Grey still wasn't happy. This was his story, and he wanted to tell it...so it switched back to first person, albeit now in past tense. That's the version you can read now.
If I can take anything from this process, it's that a story will always evolve - indeed, it needs to, in order to function as a solid narrative. Your characters have valid opinions as to what needs to happen, and when, and if you listen to them, you can end up with something more organic than if you stuck rigidly to a plot outline generated on postcards and Post-It notes. Remember that what you start out with isn't always what you finish with - but that's a good thing.
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About the author:
Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Eighty-Nine. She teaches graphic design and spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies. Icy had her first book, a Western named The Guns of Retribution, published through Pulp Press in September 2011.
Icy's blog – http://blog.icysedgwick.com
Find her on Twitter @icypop
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/miss.icy.sedgwick
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/Icy_Sedgwick
Buy The Guns of Retribution – http://www.amazon.com/dp/1908544007/