Heather Brewer on Connecting with Characters

It’s a question that pops up again and again: How do you write about something you haven’t experienced? Maybe you’re trying to write from the point of view an old man when you’re a 14-year-old girl or imagining a kissing scene when you’ve never been kissed. Heather Brewer understands where you’re coming from. After all, the main character her Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series is a half vampire AND a teenaged boy. Below, she explains how it was easier for her to think like a boy than it was to create Kaya, the female lead in her new novel, Soulbound.

You might think that it’s the most difficult thing in the world for a woman in her late thirties to write books from the point of view of a teenage boy. Add to that mix the fact that the boy is a vampire (well…half vampire, really) and you can be sure that things are going to go awry. What could a non-vampire (not even half, if you want to know the truth) human woman in her late thirties possibly know about what it’s like to be a half-vampire teenage boy? The answer might surprise you.

I was never popular growing up. Scratch that—I was always grossly unpopular. Even the kid who didn’t bathe refused to sit by me on the bus….It sounds crazy that the person who would grow up to be Auntie Heather, Supreme Ruler of the Minion Horde, was that kid that everybody seemed to hate. I’d get on the bus and as I was passing to an empty seat, people would make snide remarks or spit on me. As I walked down the hall at school, my books would get knocked from my hands. I could go on…but this blog isn’t about me. It’s about Vlad and Kaya.

So being that I was grossly unpopular, I used my imagination to escape. And I’ve never let go of that feeling: that need for escape, that sensation that I didn’t belong. If you’ve read The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, that feeling probably sounds a little familiar to you. (If you haven’t read it, perhaps it sounds a bit familiar anyway.) Vlad and I bonded through that feeling of being misunderstood, of not belonging, of being a tad lost in a world of people who don’t seem anything at all like we do.

I wrote The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod to deal with the pain that I was still experiencing over having been bullied as a child and as a teen. But when it came to writing Soulbound, the first book in The Legacy of Tril series, my reasons were very different.

Life went on after high school (which it tends to do—in fact, life truly begins the day that high school ends) and I had a family. They’re amazing, my family, but for now, I want to focus on my only daughter, Alexandria. She’s eleven years old, adores the color pink, laughs more than anyone I know, and is the first to point out when someone is being mistreated. I’m incredibly proud of her. She has a strength about her that amazes me: a strength that I did not find within myself until I was much older than she is now. She’s also a voracious reader—something she undoubtedly gets from her mother. And so I’m on the constant prowl to find new books for her that will hold her interest.

I won’t name names (and I don’t think I need to), but there is a certain series about a certain girl who falls down a lot and is absolutely a damsel in distress. After reading that series, I was horrified at the things that we are teaching young girls, particularly about how boys should be treating them. After hearing a few Minions say that they were waiting for their Edward (or Frank or Ted or Bob or Bartholomew—take your pick) to come and save them, my horror turned to anger. Girls are strong. Girls are resilient. Girls are smart, savvy, and can kick so much butt, you have no idea. Why were these girls choosing being rescued by a glittery stalker rather than wanting to save themselves?

My thoughts immediately went to my daughter, and I knew that I wanted her to have better female characters to follow. I knew that I wanted to write a book about a girl who wasn’t perfect by a long shot, but could learn to defend herself and had the drive to do so. I wanted to write a book where the love interest(s) weren’t perfect either, because who’s perfect? Everyone is flawed. We choose to see perfection, or to ignore those things some might deem perfection. So…I wrote Soulbound, starring Kaya. She’s stubborn, willful, makes poor choices at times, mouths off, breaks the rules, and kicks butt. But writing from Kaya’s perspective wasn’t always easy.

The thing about me writing about Vlad is that my brain is the brain of a teenage boy. I’ve found that teen boys and I share similar interests, and can carry on conversations without missing a beat. I’ve always gotten along with guys better than girls. So having a girl inside my brain was daunting. It was intimidating. Girls have all of these emotions and observations about EVERYTHING. I just don’t think that way, so it was a challenge. I needed a wingman in my creative brain—someone to get me close to Kaya, to help me understand her. And my wingman was found in a character named Maddox.

Maddox isn’t like other girls. She’s a lot more like a boy than a girl, so talking to her was easy. I reveled in writing scenes with her. She’s sarcastic, funny, bold, outspoken…and, if you want to know the truth, Maddox is probably about as close as you can get to yours truly. Maddox…is me.

Yeah. How messed up is that? Not only do I have imaginary people living in my brain, but one of them is me. Two of them, really, if you count Vlad (and I do). But Vlad is a representation of who I was then, and Maddox is more who I am now. Kaya is someone else—more like my daughter, I think. So the question remains…who will I be tomorrow? Who will you be today?

4 thoughts on “Heather Brewer on Connecting with Characters

  1. You support your stance pretty well, Auntie Heather. There are plenty of YA books out there that send subtle yet negative messages about romance.

    “So the question remains…who will I be tomorrow? Who will you be today?” My narrator seems to be someone that I want to be more of, except taken to an extreme that must mature through character development.

  2. Thank you for this! Not only does this post make authors more real-life, but I learned that I’m not the only one who believes in a strong, resilient, imperfect female protagonist! I just wish my characters would float around in my head…maybe I’d understand them better!

  3. I know where you’re coming from. I write books for the kids who aren’t represented enough in YA literature, kids who are more like I was when I was at that age. In a word, “geeks.” Wonderful, wonderful geeky girls (and guys) like me.

    I started writing my first book, Toren the Teller’s Tale, when I was seventeen, because I couldn’t find myself in the fantasy books I read. I was a girl who loved telling stories, and I understood that there’s a kind of magic in stories. I thought other writers must know that, too, and other female writers must have felt the same way I did about storytelling.

    So why wasn’t there a book with a heroine who was like me? And why wasn’t there a book about the magic of storytelling? I knew that if I couldn’t find it, I would have to write it myself.

    Toren the Teller’s Tale evolved over many years before I wrote it down, and now that it’s published, I feel it’s given a voice to those who didn’t have a voice before. This is why we need more kick-ass heroines in YA literature. Girls need to know how awesome they are right now and how much potential they hold. It has nothing to do with guys and boyfriends or where you are on the high-school totem pole, but rather it’s about who you are inside.

    And inside you are totally kick-ass.

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