The Pressure of Taking on Another Author’s Character

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[Note From Frolic: We have a thing for novellas. A BIG thing. In the next installment of an ongoing series, we bring you a piece from author Rachel Van Dyken, whose novella ‘All Stars Fall‘ with our friends at 1001 Dark Nights‘ Kristen Proby Crossover Collection is out now!]

As an author, we get a lot of really cool opportunities to network and write with one another. I’ve done co-writing before, where you and another author work on a book together, maybe you split the chapters up or even the characters. It’s always a really fun experience because both of you are in it together, you are both a part of the creative process which gives you equal amounts of votes when it comes to likes and dislikes in the book. It’s not as much pressure when you’re both starting from scratch. 

So when I was asked to write in the Kristen Proby Crossover collection (on sale now) I started approaching it in the same way, oh I’m just going to take a minor character from Kristen’s series and pop them in one of my worlds and create the most perfect book ever released on the planet! 

Right? 

Wrong. 

So. Wrong. 

It should be easy, in my head it was a simple concept; I was given the character of Penelope, a teacher from Cunningham Falls (part of Kristen Proby’s Big Sky Series). I was familiar enough with Kristen’s work that I thought I knew exactly how this would play out. I’d sit at my computer like I always do when starting a story and lucky me I’d already have a character profile built up for Penelope so when I decide to bring her to Seaside (the series I write in), she’ll fit right in! Like a missing puzzle piece. 

Again. I was wrong. 

Because the thing about using someone else’s character? It’s not yours. I know that sounds ridiculous and obvious. But, I figured the moment I took ownership of this character that she would start speaking to me and that it would be this natural progression of getting to know her likes, dislikes, and putting her in a story where she seamlessly moves to my world and skips her way through the pages. 

I’m almost embarrassed to confess how difficult it was to start this novella. I had several days where I would write something only to delete it, go back to Kristen’s series pour over it, and then try again. This had never happened to me before. The character wasn’t fitting and around a week into writing it I realized why. 

It was all self-inflicted pressure to make a flawed character perfect. 

I was taking a book character that had already been created by someone I admire and respect, and I was going to attempt to fit them in a world where I was going to put them through a lot, and I was having a really hard time with that. I actually felt guilty about it. Not to mention less than worthy of taking someone that Kristen had already made, and wreak havoc on her life. 

Because that’s what authors do. We think about the worst possible thing that could happen to a person, rub our hands together and go whoops. We put characters in situations that challenge them, and as that character grows, we help them figure out not only who they are in the book but who they are with the significant other you match them with. 

I realized I wasn’t just feeling pressure to make this the best book ever, but I was feeling guilt over taking a character who’d already semi had a story, and tossing her to the wolves, in my case, tossing her into a rockstar romance book where she had zero experience with a tall sexy drummer. A widower, with three kids under the age of six. 

Surprise Penelope! 

I laugh now when I look back at how stressed out I was over this, I mean it is fiction, but at the same time, when any of us authors write we become the story to such an extreme that we often can’t sleep without thinking about these characters and the situations we put them in. 

When I was finally able to accept that yes I was going to take Kristen’s perfect character and throw her into chaos, I was ready to start writing the story. I was able to see her unique reactions to the things I threw at her and I appreciated her even more, and the challenge of trying to live up to an incredible book series. 

I’m not gonna lie; I was terrified when my book was sent into Kristen, what if she hated it? What if I destroyed her vision of her character? What if I had to re-write everything. 

It’s a lot of pressure because authors make everything so very personal, and we’re vulnerable when we write because we leave pieces of ourselves in every single story. Kristen laid her heart out with her Big Sky series, and now I was having to take a piece of that and not break it. 

I’m happy to announce I didn’t have to re-write anything and it was such an incredible experience, one I would love to attempt again. I truly think that as authors we need to continue to challenge ourselves even if it’s daunting. I know next time I’m going to remember to relax, and let the character speak rather than force all my insecurities onto him or her. And I will one hundred percent make sure I have wine when I send in my manuscript to the author again with my fingers crossed and eyes closed. Never let it be said that being an author is easy or stress-free. But it is worth it — every single day. 

All Stars Fall by Rachel Van Dyken, out now!

She left.
Two words I can’t really get out of my head.
She left us.
Three more words that make it that much worse.
Three being another word I can’t seem to wrap my mind around. 
Three kids under the age of six, and she left because she missed it. Because her dream had never been to have a family, no her dream had been to marry a rockstar and live the high life.
Moving my recording studio to Seaside Oregon seems like the best idea in the world right now especially since Seaside Oregon has turned into the place for celebrities to stay and raise families in between touring and producing. It would be lucrative to make the move, but I’m doing it for my kids because they need normal, they deserve normal. And me? Well, I just need a break and help, that too. I need a sitter and fast. Someone who won’t flip me off when I ask them to sign an Iron Clad NDA, someone who won’t sell our pictures to the press, and most of all? Someone who looks absolutely nothing like my ex-wife. 

He’s tall. 
That was my first instinct when I saw the notorious Trevor Wood, drummer for the rock band Adrenaline, in the local coffee shop. He ordered a tall black coffee which made me smirk, and five minutes later I somehow agreed to interview for a nanny position. I couldn’t help it; the smaller one had gum stuck in her hair while the eldest was standing on his feet and asking where babies came from. He looked so pathetic, so damn sexy and pathetic that rather than be star-struck, I took pity. I knew though; I knew the minute I signed that NDA, the minute our fingers brushed and my body became insanely aware of how close he was—I was in dangerous territory, I just didn’t know how dangerous until it was too late. Until I fell for the star and realized that no matter how high they are in the sky—they’re still human and fall just as hard.

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