Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Post: Margaret (Peggy) Fieland

Hi all! Today we are welcoming guest blogger Margaret Fieland to the blog. Margaret, or Peggy as I call her, was born and raised  in New York City. She is the daughter  of a painter, the mother of three grown sons and an accomplished flute and piccolo player. She is an avid science fiction fan, and selected Robert A. Heinlein's “Farmer in the Sky” for her tenth birthday, now long past. She lives in the suburbs west of Boston, MA with her partner and seven dogs.

Today we are going to get a lesson in creating characters. Enjoy!!

Creating Characters

I'm a way back sci fi fan, but until I started planning "Relocated " last fall, I'd never written any, so partly to get myself past my "sci fi" block, I decided to write a sci fi novel for 2010 NANO.

In my YA sci fi, "Relocated," the main character, 14 year old Raketh (Keth) Frey is an Aleyni/human mix. Aleynis are dark skinned, gray eyed, aliens with psi abilities. In the Terran Federation, use of psi is illegal, and relations between the Aleyni and the Terran Federation are strained at best.

Why dark skin? Well, I wanted my aliens to look distinctive, and I liked the idea of casting against type and making the dark skinned guys the good guys. Plus that's just how they looked in my head.

I started thinking about the Aleyni and their society long before I decided to write the book. The Aleyni had the ability to mind speak and could tell truth from lies. Their society worked on the basis of shared responsibility rather than laws and procedures. Relationships usually involved four persons, rather than two, and two was considered unstable. The relationships involved a fair amount of same-sex interaction.

I've recently completed the second book in the series, in which Keth is four years older. I hadn't yet sent out the first book, so I was able to make a couple of tweaks to make the two hang together.

I did recently discover a pretty cool piece of writing software, character writer. Among other things, it generates descriptions based on enneagrams .It's expensive (otherwise I'd buy it), but I did download the free version and have found it useful. The descriptions are a starting point for me.

I did more up-front work on my characters (the new ones especially), character arc, plot points, and the like for the second book, and I found it helpful. One of the results was a first chapter in the second book that I really like.

One thing that happens for me is that as I write, my characters and their motivations become clearer. For example, in the second book, one of the characters, Brad, is involved with Keth's grandfather, Ardaval. Ardaval has to ask a favor of Imarin, one of three rolor'in who left him.

As far as labels can translate in a sci fi novel or anywhere else for that matter, in my head Brad is gay, Ardaval and Imarin are bisexual, as is Nidrani, the remaining woman from Arda's original foursome (the other woman died). At the end Arda, Brad, Imarin and Nidrani end up together.

Everyone's process is different. While I now do far more pre-planning, laying out of plot points and generating character descriptions than I ever used to, at bottom, I'm a "discover as you go" kind of writer, in that my characters and their motivations, and a great deal of the finer points of the plot, reveals itself to me as I write.

I've written a good bit of story about the secondary characters, pretty much all in third person -- the book itself is in first, from Keth's point of view. I've written about 5000 words of Brad's story, words that may very well never see the light of day, and are not intended to be part of the book. I could claim I do it to discover my characters, but in actuality I simply enjoy it, and sometimes it's the only way to reclaim some of the real estate in my head.

Keth's father, Gavin, is Ardaval's son by a Terran woman. One of the points in the first book that had bothered me was whether or not Ardaval had been involved in a relationship when Gavin showed up at his door (Gavin was about 18 at the time). This takes place before the action of the first book, and rates a couple of sentences in chapter two of the first book.

When I started writing the second book I ended up creating Imarin and Nidrani and in the process, answered this question. I went back and inserted a line or two about Ardaval's partners having left him (rather than died), in the first book, but otherwise they're not mentioned.

At the end of the second book, Ardaval, Imarin, Nidrani, and Brad end up together. When I wrote about the first night the four spend together (NOT for the book), I discovered much to my surprise, that Brad did end up responding to Nidrani. I went back and rewrote a couple of sentences in the book as a result.

Margaret Fieland lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston. You can visit her website and blog,

To hear from another great writer, stop by Robert Medak's blog tomorrow and meet Kathy Stemke. You won't be disappointed!


Margaret Fieland said...

Marietta, thanks for hosting me today.

Karen Cioffi said...

Peggy, your sci-fi books sounds so interesting.

I like your process of 'overwriting.' Aside from clearing room in your head, I'm sure it gives you insights into your characters that you might not have gotten any other way.

Will it be a series, or are you stopping at two books?

Margaret Fieland said...

Karen -- good question. It depends on whether or not I get a good idea for a follow-on {grimace} and how I do submitting these two --

Magdalena Ball said...

An interesting insight into how you create characters Peggy. I think that unpublished backstory is a critical component of good characterisation. I use spreadsheets to keep track of characteristics and backstories.

kathy stemke said...

Thank you for your tips on character development. It's always a key element in fiction writing but I think it becomes even more important in a Sci-fi novel. There seems to be more details to keep straight.

Virtual book tour June 13-July6

Donna M. McDine said...


I enjoyed reading about your writing process. I know the feeling that once you have an image in your head it is very difficult to divert from it.

Best wishes for your continued success.

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