02 June 2010

God? Virus? Barney? -- Using Real People to Create Fictional Characters

One of my more inspirational--some say insane --ideas in promoting NEVЯLAND is the weekly "publication" of the Junebug Journal.

You can read it HERE
. I started as a photojournalist. I've published and edited two newspapers. The Junebug Journal is one way of reaching inside of me and doing something I enjoy doing very much.

I have to be careful, though, not to make the weekly newspaper look too professional. After all in the apocalyptic, non-adult world of NEVЯLAND, the Junebug Journal is published by Chad Chapman, Jr., the 17-year-old son of the disappeared publisher and editor Chad Chapman, Sr.

The weekly newspaper gives a real-world effect to my tale. It reveals background and sundry information about the characters, Junebug, Oklahoma, and gives a different personal insight into the terror and chaos the children are facing.

The newspaper contains some clues and teasers. This second special edition even has an ad for a tattoo parlor--after all, the paper has to pay for itself.

The newspaper allows an outlet for the minor characters, those who don't have a big role in the novel.

Another thing I did to try to achieve a more realistic effect as well as create a more realistic set of characters in a realistic world is to poll several dozen children from 11 through 14-years-old.

Two Altus Public School teachers graciously volunteered to pass out a survey I had written and have their students complete it.

The survey asked things such as age, size of family, if any new CPR and other first aid.

I also asked them a series of questions:

*What do you think happened to the adults?
*Who would you miss most if your family suddenly disappeared?
*What are the five to six biggest problems in a city where there are only Children and no Adults?
*What do you fear the most in such a situation?
*How would you solve some of the problems you think would arise in such a situation?
*Et cetera

I received some very interesting answers. Some were quite insightful.

I was surprised at a few students whose answers came very, very close to the overall plot of NEVЯLAND.

I was pleased as the answers of the students re-affirmed what I had felt as I outlined and began writing the first draft. In other words, I am on the right track.

So, I have combined the Jungebug Journal with the students' survey answers.

Combining the two has given the story an authentic voice and is helping me to stay focused on the real characters. These are real voices from real children, and now they are a part of my tale.

The latest edition of the Junebug Journal contains direct quotes from the surveys of the students--and, yes, one really did say that Barney had eaten the adults. I laughed when I read his response--that young man isn't going to be phased by anything or take much too seriously.

Further editions of the Junebug Journal will feature more real quotes from real students who have now been incorporated into NEVЯLAND.

When you write, don't isolate yourself.

Talk to people who are representative of your characters--in age, gender, appearance, disposition.

Ask these people how they would react in such-and-such situation. You don't' have to tell them you're writing a story, just bring the conflict randomly in conversation or relate it to something you've read in the news or on the Internet.

When you write, create a real fictional world complete with a newspaper, a radio station, local teen hangout. Invite your readers to participate in this real fictional world.

Creating a real world within your fictional world requires getting butt off chair and meeting face-to-face with real people. These real people are your characters, and they will help you to smoothly move your story along.

See you on the bookshelves.

Larry Mike

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