Finding Gems in Backstory [character development]

Before Ravenwood became a place in my stories, there was Myers Lake, named after Alice Myers, an old woman who lived alone in an ancient Victorian mansion at the lake. She had no living relatives and was always alone—well, she had several cats to keep her company and there was the local pastor who mowed her lawn and trimmed her hedges in the summer, but no other person ever visited. And so, rumors and stories sprang up among the kids in the neighborhood that her house was haunted and that she kept to herself because she was a witch. One of those kids was 9-year-old Owen Burkhart who lived across the street from the “witch’s house.” He had heard about missing pets ending up as stews in Old Lady Myers’s kitchen, so he was cautious not to let Max, his Toy Fox Terrier, off its leash. Every day he had to deal with the suspicion that his neighbor was evil and to trespass on her property was a serious omen that something terrible would happen to him, which is why he played in the backyard behind his house out of sight of Old Lady Myers and her evil house.

It was the last day of school when he came running home, excited to start summer vacation, and saw the coroner’s hearse leaving the driveway at the witch’s house. Old Lady Myers had died. But the bad omen he felt about the property never left him. Someone threw a rock and broke a front window at the old house. The lawn grew into brambles and weeds. By the time Fourth of July came, the place looked spookier than ever before, and rumors had started that Old Lady Myers’s ghost now haunted the place.

Owen wanted to move far away from that creepy house. But a pretty girl changed his mind when she and her family moved into the place and fixed it up.

Over the years, Owen’s story grew in breadth and depth. A town sprang up from my imagination and surrounded Myers Lake—first called White Raven, then Ravenwood, and eventually Ridgewood. Myers Lake became Alice Lake. The pretty girl became Vree Erikson. And Owen Burkhart became Kenny Douglas for a while, then Liam Burkhart, and then Lenny Stevens—same boy, different names. Those versions of Owen have him 15 years old and living on Myers Ridge when Vree and her family move into that haunted house and he comes to her aid. You can read a published version of that story idea, which features Lenny, still available to download free at Smashwords in a stand-alone book called Margga’s Curse.

A gem in that story is two strangers—boy and girl—bonding and working toward a common goal. When I was nine, this was easy for me to do. I saw a boy or girl around my age, I talked to them and made their acquaintance unless the other kid was super shy. But I don’t recall any 9-year-old being shy. That came later, especially at age 15 when hormones had kicked in and we knew without sitting through those tortuous Human Health classes that we had sexual organs for the sole purpose of reproducing our species. At 15, it wasn’t easy anymore for boys to make the acquaintance of the new girl next door. And I know it wasn’t easy for girls to be comfortable around boys, either. Every day, we fought the Call of the Wild to talk to each other. Honesty went out the window and we pretended nothing was amiss.

I wrote earlier this month that I have grown weary of writing about teens. A more accurate statement would have been, “I have grown weary of publishers wanting me to give my teen characters positive sexual relationships.”

I know today’s teenagers live differently than when I was a teen. Even their parents lived differently. I was 18 when Judy Blume’s controversial young adult book Forever was published. The main character, Katherine, has a positive sexual relationship described in detail. Since then, sexual descriptions in YA books is relatively commonplace these days. And some books focus squarely on sex as a theme.

But I don’t want sex to promote the sales of my books. And it shouldn’t be used to sell anything else, either.

When I write a story, I may touch on that teenage angst and awkwardness that I mentioned earlier, but I’m not going to have scenes with my characters copulating. And that includes my adult characters.

The gems of my stories are how well people get along and work together for a common goal. For Owen and Vree (and Kenny, Liam, and Lenny) when they are 9, 15, or any age, that common goal is having each other’s back through the thick and thin of it.

And if they have sex, let it happen offstage.

Published by

Steve Campbell

I am an artist and indie-author. I draw and paint wildlife art, draw cartoons, and write paranormal fantasy fiction.

2 thoughts on “Finding Gems in Backstory [character development]

  1. Excellent, and I mean that sincerely. Most encouraging thing I’ve read recently. Thanks for being an author who chooses NOT to sell out– and I know you pay a price for that. Your courage and high standards are both very much appreciated. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apologies for the overdue reply. It has been a crazy time during the past few months. (Anyone who works retail knows that many people went crazy with their stimulus money to buy TVs, computers, gaming systems, and video games.) So I have a moment to thank you for the comment. Selling out has never been part of my agenda. Unfortunately, I see a lot of it in the marketplace, both in art and book publishing. The almighty dollar wears a crown these days, complete with thorns that prick.

      Liked by 1 person

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