About the Book:
“When you die, your spirit wakes in the north, in the City of the Dead. There, you wander the cold until one of your living loved ones finds you, says “Goodbye,” and Sends you to the next world.
After her parents die, 12-year-old Sophie refuses to release their spirits. Instead, she resolves to travel to the City of the Dead to bring her mother and father’s spirits back home with her.
Taking the long pilgrimage north with her gruff & distant grandmother—by train, by foot, by boat; over ruined mountains and plains and oceans—Sophie struggles to return what death stole from her. Yet the journey offers her many hard, unexpected lessons—what to hold on to, when to let go, and who she must truly bring back to life.”
About the Author:
Craig Staufenberg is a writer and filmmaker living in NYC.
A Post From Craig Staufenberg:
I followed a simple process to develop the characters for The Girl Who Came Back to Life—I just started writing the book, and the characters came along with it. I didn’t use any formal templates or breakdowns of what a character should be. I just started writing the book, and as I did the characters revealed themselves to me. Sometimes a character reveal that showed up later in the book meant going back and making adjustments to how they play earlier in the book, but for the most part the characters came to me whole clothe as I put pen to paper.
What can account for this?
No clue! Psychologically oriented people will say it’s a subconscious thing. Mystical folks us will say the characters are real in some alternate world and I channeled them onto the page. There are a hundred other theories out there attempting to explain where fictional characters come from, and each of these theories has one thing in common— I don’t give a damn about any of them.
Really. Playing with theories offers a superficial level of fun and a false sense of control, neither of which holds much interest to me. And I’m even less concerned with knowing which theory is “right”. I don’t care where the characters come from. I only care that I can find them.
If you’re a writer looking for tips on character development, or a reader who connected with the book and now desires insight into the creative experience, I understand if this isn’t comforting news. I can shed a little more light on my process. But I can’t promise deeper clarity.
So here’s what I did. I had this idea for a story kicking around for a while. (I can hear the subconscious theorists cheering now! Calm yourselves.)
So the story was one I felt in me for a long time. Less than a decade, but not that much less. Over the years I tried to write it, and draw it, and otherwise breathe it into the world, but what came out never felt right and complete. So after taking a year off from making anything, I decided it was time to finally tell this story. I went to a coffee shop and wrote, every day, for about a week. And after about a week I had the story in front of me, and it was much different than the story I thought it would be.
Though one thing stayed consistent, through every iteration, hanging on from the moment the very first inkling of the story crept up inside me—and that’s the tone. It’s emotional core. A feeling of loss. I started writing the book with this feeling of loss, but it soon became a feeling of loss and love. Writing the story I learned there’s no difference between the two. They are twin sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.
So when I sat down to write, I sank into my heart. I had some tea and listened to some music and let myself feel as much love and loss as I could. When I hit a point of depth and alignment with those feelings I started to write. And when I wrote, I wrote about Sophie.
Why Sophie? It’s a simple equation. I started with a feeling. Then I found a character who embodied that feeling perfectly. This young girl Sophie loses her parents and refuses to let their spirits go. Her entire journey is the journey from loss to love. (Or from love to loss, depending on how you look at it.)
She was a natural fit. The hero of a story is the person who best embodies it. Who drives the feeling forward. And along the way, the other characters that hero meets are the people that best embody the journey’s current step. For this book, that meant Sophie had to form relationships with people who had been through roughly what she had been through, and who could thus help her take the next step forward. Sometimes physically. Always emotionally.
So if you want a recipe for a story’s characters, there you have it. The hero embodies the full story. The side characters embody their own corners of it. Simple.
It does get a bit more complicated when your story has more than one hero, as my book does. I know, I know… I just told you Sophie is the hero. And she is. But those who read the book closely will see that Sophie’s grandmother is also the hero of the story. Sure— we follow Sophie. But if you don’t let yourself be too distracted by my almost single-minded focus on her journey you’ll notice that her grandmother goes on a quest of her own. One as mythic and transformative as her own.
Just as love and loss are two sides of the same feeling, Sophie and her grandmother are two sides of the same hero. Sophie could never have made the journey without her grandmother, and her grandmother could never have made her own journey without Sophie. Physically and emotionally. And at the end, they both wind up changed from their journey together.
Note: I’m not talking about the rigid “Hero’s Journey” theory here. I’m not offering a templatized way of thinking about how characters come to be. Just offering some loose guidance related to what worked for me here:
- Find a feeling. One or two words. This is what your story is about.
- Your main character embodies that feeling, and her journey is an exploration and transformation of that feeling.
- Your side characters do the same thing and embody their own corner of the story. They’ve probably been through the larger story before so they can provide some insight on how your main character could step forward.
- Two heroes is fine, but remember—they’re two sides of the same coin, as they’re both embodying the same feeling that the story is about, just in their own unique ways.
- At the end, your hero is different than when she started. A good rule of thumb—take where she starts, think up its opposite, and you’ve found where she is at the end.
Simple, but effective, and loose enough you can follow them and still feel your heart. And your character’s heart. Which, hopefully, beat about the same.
Thank you Craig! I love to hear about the development of characters! I hope you enjoyed it as well!
Original, enjoyable, unique, creative, and quick read. During my reading, my mind often wandered off to thoughts of those I have lost. What would I do? Do I worry about where they are? Or should I worry more about where I am? What can I learn through this ‘journey’? So much to ponder! I really think that after reading Craig’s post for Cici’s Theories, I have a new appreciation for Sophie.
Great read! Thank you for stopping by Cici’s Theories and thank you for including me on the tour!
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