Posted in Doms of the FBI

Michele Zurlo’s Notebook: Creating Character (Autumn from Re/Leased)

Building a new character can sometimes be tricky. You have to figure out who they are, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to make it happen. Building the character of Autumn Sullivan was tricky. I wanted to create a complex heroine. She had to be strong and independent, and she had to have flaws. If you’ve read Re/Leased, then you know that Autumn has a ton of flaws.

Autum and Summer charactersFirst, she’s a thief. She grew up learning the art of the con. Though she’s trying to (mostly) live an honest life, she doesn’t actually know how. “Normal” and “honest” are relative terms, and taking the occasional break-and-enter job to help pay for her sister’s hospital bills seems normal and honest to Autumn.

Second, she’s stubborn. This isn’t always a flaw. It’s how she’s survived so far. However there are certain circumstances where obstinacy can be a drawback–as Autumn finds out.

This is a picture I took of a page in my writer’s notebook. I take crappy pictures. I’d like to blame the camera on my phone, but most of the pictures I’ve taken suck, so that’s not it. This picture shows a little of my process for character building. If you look close, you’ll see lots of scribbles and things crossed out at the top of the page. That’s because it took me some time to figure out Autumn’s name. I eventually posted a contest where a reader got to choose her name. As a placeholder, I used Bree/Brea/Breanna.

This image shows Autumn’s side of things. It has places where I took notes on released 500Julianne, Stephanie, Brian Sullivan (her father), Tess (Summer’s doctor), and her real parents. Summer has only one line because she was in a coma for most of the book. As I’m writing the first book in the SAFE Security series, I’m developing Summer’s character. I think she’s going to be a handful! (The book focuses on Autumn and David, so that gives me more time to develop Summer.)

Not everything on my notes page came to fruition. For example, on there I had Autumn stealing $11,000 from CalderCo. In Re/Leased, I never mentioned a specific amount because it wasn’t relevant.

Throughout the writing process, characters grow and change. I try to keep track of that in my notebook, which took a lot of practice. I’ve always been a seat-of-my-pants kind of person because I can keep a lot of stuff in my head, but there comes a point when it’s too complicated. This is the 5th book in the series, and I want to make sure that my heroes and heroines are not cookie-cutter replicas of each other. Some readers may not like the variety. They want all their heroes to be the same kind of strong and all their heroines to be the same kind of submissive (yeah, we’re in the BDSM world. Deal with it.) That bores the heck out of me. I can’t write that way. The more time I spend with each character, the more real they become to me, and the more real I can make them for my readers. Autumn is brash, funny, opinionated, and bratty. I really liked writing her, and I hope you like reading her story.

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Posted in Ramblings

Binge-Everything–It’s What Authors Do

Since I’ve had Netflix this past year, I’ve learned that I love to binge-watch shows. I’ve enjoyed old favorites, like watching every episode of MASH or Gilmore Girls in order and back-to-back. It makes a huge difference. For instance, I don’t think people realized how inconsistent MASH was. One day it’s freezing and the middle of winter. The next it’s boiling and the height of summer. Of course, the setting was exactly the same. Or you see that Gilmore Girls wasn’t just fun and filled with rapid fire repartee. When consumed en masse, the brilliance of the writing and plotting shows up. Okay, it’s a soap opera and very over dramatic, but I like TV-lite because it helps me not think about all the heavy responsibilities of my life.

I’ve discovered new shows, like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was obviously written to be consumed in a binge style, and I’ve had a chance to watch shows that I didn’t catch the first time around, like White Collar (which I LOVED–consuming 6 short seasons in a week–don’t judge.)

But this phenomenon, while probably unhealthy, I have realized, typifies creative behavior. When I write, it’s not often in small spurts. Because it takes time to get my head into the story, I resist leaving that world. During the school year, I’m limited to writing for 2-3 hours at a time, but during the summer, I’ll go at it for 10-12 hours a day for a couple of weeks. I’ve learned that when I put down my work, I put it down for several days (or a week, as when I consumed White Collar.) When I return to my work, I’m fresh and committed. Or I put it down and do something else.

Is this behavior healthy? Probably not, but it’s cathartic, and who doesn’t love a good catharsis?