Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Sharing a Character’s Feelings

In my Wolf Dream stories, the main protagonist, Coltan, is a vampire. To say the least, he is a stoic. He struggles a lot with his feelings as he progresses toward humanness. Without constantly diving into his head, I find it difficult to share with the reader what I, as the omniscient observer, know he is feeling.

As he builds relationships with Criften first, and then with Malcan, I can sometimes expose some of his inner thoughts through dialog. But, Coltan, being who he is, usually isn’t very forthcoming with his feelings and emotions.

Sometimes Malcan forces the interaction. Here is an example from my still rough second draft of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” This is pretty early in their relationship, so they don’t know each other very well.

Coltan followed him into the forest. When they were well away from the camp, Malcan stopped and faced him.

“I saw you last night”—he held the vampire’s eyes—“at the tavern.”

Coltan peered back at him.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“I think it is,” Malcan said.

Coltan’s eyes dropped.

“Did you go just for the sex? I could understand that. But you bit her.”

Malcan goes on to insist on an explanation. Coltan grudgingly shares some pretty intimate stuff. I like these dialogs, but still, Coltan doesn’t freely share these things.

I am taking a writing class this month, through ClassesAndWorkshops.com and taught by Nils Osmar. It’s a fun and informative class. It has been good for me to try out writing prompts and to get some feedback on my writing. I have not found time to join a critique group yet, so this has been an opportunity to get more than just a few words from listeners at the open-mic readings I frequently attend. It has also given me the chance to read pieces longer than the five minutes the open-mic’s allow.

It was at this class that I read my first explicitly sexual piece out loud—which is from another story idea I am trying not to spend too much time on. Simply writing that piece enabled me to write a large backstory (with more than forty-thousand words!) for Coltan that focuses on his addictions—to blood and sex, frequently together. A nice aside to me in reading the piece in class was, it gave one of the other students the courage to write explicit sex into his story, which he shared with us the next week.

I already knew something about Coltan’s story, in my head, but felt uncomfortable writing it—it made me feel like a voyeur. But, oh my gods, Coltan shared a lot with me. It gave me such a rich understanding of where he has been, struggles he has had, how he has progressed and where he is going. I needed this information in order to finish Tishta.

Part of my homework this week was to write a letter from the perspective of one of my characters. I chose Coltan. It seems like something he would do. I already have a story in my second book, “Into the Wolf Dream,” where Coltan writes a letter to Mar, the orphan child who adopts Coltan as her father. I won’t share that now. But I will share this one, one of the three I ended up writing for the class. I’ll probably include a version of it in Tishta.

Dear Malcan,

If you’re reading this, I’m gone. Likely, Criften is dead. I’m sorry. It means we failed. The odds were against us from the beginning. If Criften died first, I hope and pray that you staked me. I can’t bear the thought of being untamed again. Don’t blame yourself for killing me.

I never dreamed I would have friend again. And, what a good friend you have been. I don’t know how you were able to put aside your strong… feelings… about me, when we first met, although, long ago, I had a similar experience with a young vampire hunter.

Much like you, he tried to stake me my first night at Soldur-gan. His name was Lindo. He was only seven—the same age as Mar—and desperate to begin killing vampires, starting with me. When I stopped him, he was so afraid I would kill him. I made a pact with him, that we wouldn’t hurt each other.

While I was there, Eido taught me how to wield my weapon properly, and then I was put in charge of teaching beginners. Lindo was in my first class. He learned to trust me, like you did. I taught him the things he would need to know to survive, as a vampire hunter—how to use his sword to take off the demon’s head; how and where to drive in a stake. He nearly killed me, when I taught him that.

You already knew those skills when I met you. And, we never needed a pact to keep you from staking me. Well, I guess we had Criften, in the beginning, but then, we had friendship.

I vaguely remember a boy, Halder, from my childhood. He was my best friend, the only one I’ve had besides you. It’s one of the memories Eido helped me recover. One of the only ones, from before I met Criften. How odd, to live a life for thirty years, yet remember only glimpses of it. And then, to spend a hundred-sixty more—killing thousands of innocent people—and not remember a thing. This is why I need you to stake me.

You have been a blessing in my life. I love you for that. I love all the time we have spent together—fighting beside you on the battlefield; our talks at night and laying together in the wagon.

You’re the strongest man I know. Be strong now. Lead the others. Help them survive. Protect Mar. Please, protect Mar. Tell her that I love her.

And know that I love you, my friend.

~Coltan

A nice thing about letters is, they provide a vehicle for exposition. In this one, I shared some of what went on at Soldur-gan—the part about Lindo—while Coltan was learning to separate his desires around blood from his sexual passion. More importantly, I was able to let Coltan express his fear about becoming unbound and share the love he feels for Malcan.

Although the assignment was to write a letter, I have already written three. The one from Coltan to Malcan, one from Coltan to his wife—who was his very first victim—and one from him to a woman, Salindra, that he believes he killed, which drove him into the deep depression that spurred Criften to send him to Soldur-gan. It’s backstory material. Maybe I’ll share some of it someday.

I read the letter to Salindra at the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers Two Hour Transport open-mic last night, not even hours after I finished it. I got some feedback saying it rang true and gave some insight into how difficult it is for Coltan to be a vampire. That’s what I was trying to get across. I was happy with the result.

I encourage everyone to try this exercise. Who knows where it will take you with your characters. Let me know how this works for you.

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