Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When Characters Outgrow Their Roles


Christine Amsden

We are delighted to welcome Christine Amsden to MB4, in the eve of the release of her new novel, Madison’s Song. Congratulations Christine! Today, Christine shares with us a little about her inspiration for her new novel and how the characters that we know so well sometimes surprise the writer.

Some characters arrive on a blaze of inspiration. They bowl you over, shout their secrets into your mind, and won't shut up until you've written their story. Such was the case with Cassie Scot, the ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers who became the heroine in her eponymous series.

Other characters sneak up on you, perhaps whispering their secrets, perhaps trying to grab your attention when it's spent somewhere else. Such was the case with Madison Carter, Cassie's shy, plump friend who outgrew her role in the Cassie Scot series.

I first met Madison as I built a world around Cassie. I'd already given Cassie a large family, a romantic interest, and even a bad guy to fight, but she still didn't feel complete. Of course! She needs friends. Normal friends, I decided, not part of the supernatural world she doesn't quite fit into. Friends who could express doubts about magic. Friends who ended up getting drawn into her world.

If Cassie is, in some ways, the person I would most like to be, then Madison started out as the person I felt I truly was. Maybe this connection made it inevitable that she would grow into something more than a background figure, there to play the role I'd set for her. I don't know. I only know that over the course of four books she turned from sidekick to real person. Ultimately, I couldn't finish her story from Cassie's point of view. Madison deserved a story of her own.

Madison Carter went through hell during the Cassie Scot series. She was outed as a songbird – someone whose voice can influence emotions in others. Worse, she was outed as a very low-powered sorceress, with no training or skills to protect her from those who would take advantage of her. That's what happens to her in the prologue to Madison's Song, which I wrote shortly before writing Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3). That's when it happens, as a matter of fact. An evil sorcerer, having heard about her gift, and believing her unprotected, attempts to steal her soul in order to trap her songbird gift.


One of the biggest challenges I faced when spinning off Madison's story was that it began in such a dark, horrifying way. The Cassie Scot series begins in a lighthearted manner, and though it has its ups and downs, the lighthearted tone remains true to the end.

But Madison isn't Cassie. And Scott, the romantic hero, is not Evan.

Madison nearly loses her soul in the prologue to Madison's Song. Scott saves her, but at a terrible cost. And that's not the only bad thing that's happened to her in the past. In the final two volumes of the Cassie Scot series, Madison is betrayed by her father, her fiance, and her mentor. Already prone to feeling shy, this combination of hurts sends her into a real panic, with fear of werewolves at the heart of it all. Yet I had plans to set her up with a werewolf who loves her.

This was not going to be a lighthearted story, not if I wanted to stay true to the character I'd spent four books building.

I'm a character girl. I've always said so because I see great characters as being more important than anything else in telling a good story. Madison put this mantra to the test as she took me in directions I wasn't sure I wanted to go.

When characters outgrow their roles, when they take on lives of their own, all an author can do is channel them onto the page and hope for the best. They may not have come to life in a blaze of inspiration, but they are alive. Perhaps even more fully realized than the ones who just show up.

And they'll be the ones writing the story. 

 About Madison's Song

Her voice is enchanting; his soul is black...

Madison Carter has been terrified of Scott Lee since the night he saved her from an evil sorcerer – then melted into a man-eating monster before her eyes. The werewolf is a slave to the moon, but Madison's nightmares are not.

Despite her fears, when Madison's brother, Clinton, is bitten by a werewolf, she knows there is only one man who can help. A man who frightens her all the more because even in her nightmares, he also thrills her.

Together for the first time since that terrible night, Scott and Madison drive to Clinton's home only to discover that he's vanished. Frantic now, Madison must overcome her fears and uncover hidden strengths if she hopes to save him. And she's not the only one fighting inner demons. Scott's are literal, and they have him convinced that he will never deserve the woman he loves.

About Christine Amsden


Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

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Christine Amsden said...

Thank you for hosting!

Barb Caffrey said...

I enjoyed this article, Christine. Yes, characters definitely don't know when to shut up. ;-) (But then, if they did, we writers would have a much harder time writing about them.)

More seriously, writing a darker story has its costs. One of the many stories I set aside for a time (but will get back to, as I finish whatever I start...eventually) is a darker fantasy also set in my Elfyverse (but in 1954). I have a hard time getting into the mindset of my villain; he is very nasty, but the woman behind him is even worse. I feel like I need a psychic cleansing after I write anything about them; my heroes are still funny, but what they're going through is anything but (trying to bring a much-wanted child into the world that you know is going to be damaged is not exactly an upbeat subject). And my hero Bruno hasn't even been born yet, so I'm dealing with all different people -- folks who are much older or who are ghost characters in the Elfy duology are now middle-aged and in the prime of life.

So I have some idea of the hazards, even though I've not been able to finish this story yet.

I wish you well with "Madison's Song" and by the time you read this, I'll have already shared on Facebook, Twitter and Google-Plus.

Christine Amsden said...

Thanks, Barb!

I think you're right about dark stories having their cost -- I know this took longer to write than my other books and I had to set it aside for a time. But I'm also proud of what I did here, and it's worth noting that there is hope and light too.

But I'm moving on to something a bit lighter now to reenergize! :)

Unknown said...

Christine and Barb, I agree there's a toll when you dive into the darkness. But you know what they say: The light shines brightest against the darkness. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. Good luck with your new stories. It's always a pleasure to host you on MB4.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Christine, I loved your article and am so glad you're back with us on MB4 for another round! When will the audio book for Madison's Song be available? Will you use the same narrator as the previous books?