Sunday, September 25, 2016

THINGS I ADMIRE ABOUT MY CHARACTERS - HOLLY SCHINDLER




My favorite thing about Auggie, the star of THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, is her positive outlook--and the way she never sees things as they are but as they can be. Auggie looks at a rusted pipe and thinks, "Flower." Or, "Wind chime." Or, "A woman dancing." If she didn't have that kind of outlook, she'd never become a folk artist.








My favorite thing about Izzy, the main character of WORDQUAKE, is that she'd open-minded. As the story opens, she considers books to be nothing more than dusty, mind-numbing old weekend-stealers written by dead guys who'd probably bored themselves to death.

The adventure she embarks on shows her a new way to look at the written word, though. And Izzy lets it. I mean, a character can go on the world's most amazing journey--but if he or she is close-minded, they'll miss out on seeing the world from a new angle. They'll miss out on letting that adventure have an impact on them. Not Izzy, though. She lets the events of a single day change her...now, that you just can't help but admire.

Friday, September 23, 2016

What’s Missing? Story Structure! Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom by Dia Calhoun

From the private Creative Writing mentoring I do for both adults and kids, I’ve discovered many people have a poor understanding of story structure. It isn’t really taught in general creative writing classes, beyond perhaps pointing out that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end.

Perhaps this lack isn’t surprising, if you consider all the many and often complex techniques of looking at story structure. You can read STORY, by Robert McKee, for a super in depth version. But the simplest, quickest technique I’ve found is in Eve Heidi Bine-Stock’s book, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, Vol. 1: Structure. She developed her story structure chart for picture books, but I’ve found it very useful to give me a quick snapshot of novel structure. And an easy way to try many ideas out quickly.

Bine-Stock explains the chart using well known picture books as examples, so this book would be a useful and accessible way for a middle school or secondary school teachers to teach story structure. Have the kids look at a few middle grade novels using the chart as well. Whether teaching literature or creative writing, this book would be a great tool for teaching story structure.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Finding our Characters' Broken Places by Laurie Calkhoven

I’ve enjoyed everyone’s thoughts this month on our characters’ dark sides—how we find them and how we write about them. The fact is that we all have dark sides. We hope that the good is the side that mostly presents itself to the world, but we all have them.

When I’m getting to know my characters, letting them tell me who they are and what they want, I always ask them to tell me about their broken places. They can be as simple as being the shortest kid in the class (like Claudia’s character) or as complex and overwhelming as learning your father just isn’t interested in you (like Michael does in Michael at the Invasion of France). But it’s those broken places that explain the darkness in our characters and give us a path to lead them to the light.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

INTERVIEW WITH TRUTH OR DARE AUTHOR BARBARA DEE

I love the concept of TRUTH OR DARE—and the title! Your book is so spot-on for this age group. How did you tap into that middle grade mindset? 

I often wonder the same thing! Seriously, it's just my default mindset when I'm writing. Either I'm an angsty twelve year old or Adult Me. The latter when I'm conducting business, the former when I'm creating fiction!

Beyond the exploration of the awful spiraling effects of lying, you really dig into the ins and outs of young girlhood friendships (I especially love the description of the ways in which Lia’s friends can so quickly seem to move on without her while she’s on vacation.) How much of your own childhood friendships seep into your work? Or, conversely, do you find yourself inspired to write about things that happen to your own children?

I never directly, consciously poach anything from my kids or from my own past. But as we know, stuff seeps in. Sometimes you don't realize it until you read back what's on the page.

When did you start writing? Do you remember your first attempt at story-telling? What inspired you then? What inspires you now? 

I've always written. When I was five, I wrote my first "book"--"Mitchell Colleps"--about a mischievous boy with a robot who ate Spanish rice. My mom sewed the binding in pink wool, and I still have it. There's a photo of it  on my website, www.BarbaraDeeBooks.com, and sometimes I bring it with me to school visits, to show kids that dreams can come true.  "Mitchell Colleps" was inspired by an imaginary friend of mine. I can't say I still have imaginary friends--but often, when I've finished writing a book, the characters have become so real to me it's hard to let them go.   

Your website bio indicates that your favorite word is “definitely.” Love that! (Anyone who writes can sometimes struggle to maintain a positive outlook.) How do you maintain it? (PS: I say definitely cats—my first-ever friend was a yellow one. And I also say definitely dogs—my current pet is a very spoiled Peke.) 

I think that if you love writing, it's *definitely* a privilege to be able to say that it's your career.  Some days it's hard--okay, impossible-- not to feel  demoralized. Authors are no strangers to rejection and indifference. HOWEVER, we get to play with our naughty cats (like my Luna and Coal) and our sweet dogs (like my lovely hound, Ripley) while we tell ourselves stories. In our fuzzy slippers!! How can we not be ecstatic about that?

I love the sweet, upbeat tone of TRUTH OR DARE. Do you have to work to find it? Did it come naturally? Do you have any tips for finding a character’s voice? 

I have to say the voice comes naturally to me. I think it you have to work too hard to find it, and to maintain it, it's probably going to seem forced and unnatural on the page. Here's what I tell writers who are developing their voice:  If you're writing for kids, try to hang out with kids, and eavesdrop on speech patterns. Then, when you've written something in a kid's voice, read it out loud. Listen for things like contractions: if you aren't using them, your voice is probably too formal and adult. 


I also love the discussion of “better or worse” in the book (Lia’s optometrist dad is always asking “better or worse,” while Aunt Shelby thinks dividing experiences this way is a waste of time. Where’d that idea come from?  

I have terrible eyes, so they're always getting checked. I guess that phrase just hit me one day. One of the themes I keep coming back to in my books is realizing that people aren't either/or, black/white. We're all just grey, really--rounded, imperfect, inconsistent. So having a job that makes you see the world in either/or ways all day long  is kind of horrifying to me.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the idea that losing friends lets you gain superpowers (invisibility and super vision). Lia’s actually dealt with a lot of loss: her mother has died as well. Do you think children deal with loss differently than adults? How so? 

Great question. I can tell you that I experienced great personal loss as a kid--and when it happened, I remember telling myself, "If I can get through this, I can get through anything." Do other kids feel this way when tragedy occurs? I hope so, because it really did help me. And I'm guessing that many adults don't feel  this way in the face of a terrible loss, because they're not looking to the future as optimistically as kids are.  Am I saying that kids are stronger and more resilient than adults? Sounds as if I am.

Which is tougher—writing or teaching? More rewarding? 

Hoo boy, tough one. There's nothing more exhilarating than teaching when you've got a great bunch of kids, and you're all reading and discussing  a book you truly love. But sometimes you don't get to choose the text. (At my former school, we had to teach tenth graders Alexander Pope's long poem, "The Rape of the Lock." Can you imagine?) At least when you're having a hard day as a writer, it's private. Teaching is a public performance requiring an endless supply of positive energy. So on balance...yep, teaching is harder. Definitely (Ooh, there's that word again!).

What’s your writing style? Plotter? Pantser? As writers, we’re always learning new tricks—what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about your own work in the last year? 

Glad you asked this. I used to be a pantser, convinced that if I outlined, I'd lose the sense of adventure that made writing fun. Then three years ago, my oldest kid became very ill. For a year, I didn't write a word, spending my days with him at the hospital. (He's okay now, knock wood.) At the end of that year, I wanted to get back to work, but after so much time away from my desk,  I didn't want to waste more time writing something that might not get published. So I forced myself to develop a detailed  synopsis , which my agent  and editor liked, and which became TRUTH OR DARE. I've written my next two books , STAR-CROSSED and STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU, synopsis first, and now I'm a total convert to this way of working.  For me, the hardest part of writing is developing the plot, so if I get that out of the way first, the writing is a (relative!) breeze.

Can you tell us more about future releases? Works in progress? What’s next? 

I'm especially excited about STAR-CROSSED (Aladdin/S&S--March 2017), which is about an eighth grade girl who realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet in the eighth grade production of Romeo & Juliet.  I guess my inner English teacher was behind this project, because I do use a lot of Shakespeare's play. I have to say that writing  STAR-CROSSED  was the most fun I've ever had writing a book--truthfully, it was a daily joy, and I'm happy to say that my book is not--I repeat , not-- a tragedy. I've also just not finished the first draft of STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU (Aladdin/S&S September 2017), which is about a free-spirited girl who discovers, over the course of a three-day school field trip to DC, that her roommate has an eating disorder. As a former anorexic myself, I've been horrified to read that eating disorders are showing up in tweens much more frequently these days, so I wanted to write a book that's actually enjoyable and funny--about a serious subject I'm passionate about.

Keep up with Barbara Dee: barbardeebooks.com!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Little Tiny Bits of Darkness by Claudia Mills

I have to confess that my bad characters aren't very bad, and my dark characters aren't very dark. Most of my recent books are for younger kids, third-grade-level chapter books featuring small trials and tribulations and ending with small triumphs. Ahh, but seemingly tiny moments of heartbreak and seemingly tiny markers of hard-won growth can feel huge to the child characters, and child readers, who experience them.

A couple of decades ago a book of mine received a scathing review in The New York Times, one that I can quote practically verbatim to this day. The reviewer - whom I could name but prefer not to - castigated my story because the problems my main character faced - being the shortest kid in the class, sulking in the shadows of his older brother's consistently greater success - weren't worth writing about. Everyone in the book was too nice, he sneered. Why on earth would kids, he accused, want to read the literary equivalent of "vanilla pudding"?

Well, first of all, I happen to adore vanilla pudding, I wish I had a bowl of it right now.

But, more important, I continue to think that the relatively small problems of basically kind and decent people can be the subject matter of fiction for young readers. I wrote that New York Times reviewer many letters, which of course I never mailed, and this is what I tried to tell him: To be a children's writer is by definition to take seriously problems that the rest of the world doesn't think are very important. 

As both a child and an adult reader, I identified deeply with Ramona Quimby when she goes on strike from kindergarten after her teacher, Miss Binney, scolds her for pulling Susan's irresistibly tempting "boing-boing curls." Ramona can be a pest: indeed, Ramona the Pest is the title of the book. Older sister Beezus can be disdainful. It breaks Ramona's heart when she thinks that maybe Miss Binney doesn't love her any more. But no one here is wicked, no one is cruel, and everything Ramona feels is triggered by events that are microscopically small to most adult observers, though seismically significant to a five-year-old.

Little bits of darkness can blot out the sun of a young child's world. And there is a need for stories that recognize that fact and honor it with loving recognition.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Where is the light? (September Theme - Sarah Dooley)

This month, we’re talking about what we love about our characters, or about their dark side. But when it comes to Sasha from FREE VERSE, her dark side is one of the things I love about her.

In her grit-poor, fiercely proud, “coal-keeps-the-lights-on” community, Sasha deals with shadows on a regular basis. Shadows of her dead father and the others lost to the town’s main livelihood. Shadows of her absent mother, her brother, and the emotional problems plaguing her that she doesn’t understand.  As hard as she tries to look up and stay bright, there is always another shadow, another dark spot to navigate, another bit of herself lost to grief and sorrow. And yet, she comes through it.

I love Sasha Harless, and I love her town, and to love these things is to love all of them, darkness included. In writing the novel, it was difficult to walk into that darkness far enough to get a feel for Sasha, and to look around and see what she saw, and to feel what she felt, and to write what she thought about all of it. As a writer, it forced me to face the shadows of my own life, and I don’t know that I did so as skillfully as Sasha. I do know that she, like anyone, had to face her darkness in order to find the light and grow towards it.


Friday, September 16, 2016

What We See in the Dark by Naomi Kinsman


Think back to the last time you found yourself in the dark. Maybe you were camping, or out late on the beach, or even in a room darkened by thick curtains. Take yourself back to that moment and remember: what did you see?

Darkness can be velvety and thick. It can wrap around us like a blanket. In the dark, we slow down, we pay attention, we're often on guard. In the dark, we're also more open to wonder. If you're like most people, what you remember seeing in the dark isn't the darkness, but the light. Did you remember stars or the moon or a lit candle? When we're in the dark, the light draws our eye.

In fact, light doesn't show up very well unless it is placed next to the dark. Visual artists know this principal well. Take a look at master artworks and you'll see heavy, dark tones that set off startling flashes of light.

Joseph Campbell said, "At the darkest moment comes the light." After studying stories for a lifetime, and pulling the patterns he saw together into the Hero's Journey framework, Campbell knew a thing or two about character and story. The truth is, to create characters who glimmer with hope, we must allow their darkness to also show up on the page.

Even though I know darkness is necessary for creating authentic characters, I still back away when I see a quality in one of my characters that I don't like. Why is she so jealous? I might wonder. How can he be so cruel? As writers, we can't avoid the fact that everything that shows up in our writing has somehow grown out of our own life experience or perspective. We may not be jealous or cruel, but in seeing our character's capacity to be those things, we realize that no matter how much we wish it weren't true, we have that capacity as well.

And yet, acts of courage, trust, or kindness wouldn't mean as much if they didn't cost us something. We're often moved to tears by stories of heroes because we know that setting our own needs aside and doing the heroic thing is anything but easy.

It's a stunning thing when a writer can face his or her own darkness to create a character who sparkles with light. Those are the stories I most want to read ... and the ones I aim to write every day when I sit down at my desk.

Our world needs courageous writers and daring readers who aren't afraid of the dark. What we see there points the way to transformation and understanding.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Naomi Kinsman is an author, educator and creativity coach. She is the author of the FROM SADIE'S SKETCHBOOK series and recently collaborated with singer, Natalie Grant, on the GLIMMER GIRLS series. Naomi is also the founder and Executive Director of Society of Young Inklings, an organization that offers classes, mentorships and publishing opportunities for young authors ages 6-16.  Society of Young Inklings utilizes WRITERLY PLAY, the improv-based teaching methodology that Naomi developed, as the foundation for its programming. www.naomikinsman.com



Thursday, September 15, 2016

What’s Their Story? By Bob Krech

Bad characters! Always interesting to create, some times more so than the good guys.

Most of my stories come to me first as a scene. And then another scene. And then another. Somewhere along the line there’s going to be conflict and there’s usually a bad guy or semi-bad guy appearing. I don’t often know ahead of time where they came from of what they’re story is. But I need to find out.

I hate books where the bad guy is totally bad. He’s mean, he kicks his dog, he’s a racist, he lies, he steals, and he tries to break most of the commandments. I often encounter these characters in books with important themes like race or sexual abuse. The protagonist will be multi-faceted and complex, but the bad guy is a cardboard cutout.

More often in real life, the bad guys we meet, are not bad all the time or with everyone. They may rob you, but be kind and loving to a parent. They may hate you because of your skin color, but be exceptionally loyal and trustworthy to their friends. People are complex, so should our characters be.

I think we’ve all either done or day dreamed about doing bad things. Which makes you realize, even nice people like you and I, have at least the imagination to visualize doing something wrong. I believe most people we hear about doing bad things have some sort of backstory that at least partially explains (not excuses) their behavior. The best bad characters have authors who share some of that with us (Voldemort! From Harry Potter, Judd in the Shiloh books!)

Finding out what your bad guy’s backstory is, making it interesting, and sharing some of it with your readers, could be one of the most rewarding parts of writing your story.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Embracing the Dark in Our Characters by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Anger.  Sadness.  Deceit.  Jealousy.  Fear.  There are so many things that make our characters seem dark and maybe even hard to like.  It is only recently that I'm beginning to embrace these darker emotions for my characters.  My first instinct in writing always seems to be to protect my characters from severe harm and keep them out of trouble.  They are my  fictional children afterall, and what parent wants to see their child get into such things.

Yet, just like our real children, we can't protect them from all evil and darkness.  More growth occurs when a character experiences ALL levels of emotion.  And I am learning to enjoy the journey of taking my characters from these low, troubled, dark places to find the light they need in their lives. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Characters I Wanted to Be

from Jody Feldman


I was just this side of shadowy childhood memories when Video Village came whirling its thrilling way onto our old TV screen. It may have been in black and white—at least it was for me; no color TV for years—but in my mind, it lit up with all the colors of the universe plus others that only my imagination could create. During its short run, I craved to move around that giant game board and fish, from the bridge, for gloriously wrapped presents.

When I started writing books that seemed to share a commonality, a longing to be part of such excitement, I didn’t populate the adventures with clones of me. I’m not sure I had all the necessary qualities, when I was 12 years old, to be those main characters. Now, however, I have the best time granting my characters the guts and the voice I hadn't yet found in myself. And I get to put them into circumstances I wish I’d been a part of. I may have failed, but I sure would have liked to try.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

When Good Isn’t Good and Bad Isn’t Bad
Developing Well-Rounded Story Characters

By Marcia Thornton Jones

I was bullied when I was in fifth grade. At one point, the girl who bullied held a mock trial on the playground and, acting as judge and jury, declared that no one was to be my friend. From my perspective (first person protagonist point-of-view ) the girl who bullied (antagonist) was nasty, horrible, cruel, and downright mean.

And yet…

She was popular and had a close-knit group of friends. That tells me that, in order to have so many friends, she must not have been all bad; she must’ve also possessed qualities that were friend-worthy. Stepping back and viewing her from a distance (third person omniscient), I can admit that she exhibited positive character qualities, too (just not towards me). With others, she was smart, funny, confident, decisive, and a damn good leader—after all, she convinced everyone else to join in her bullying entertainment. Her strengths made her effective as a person who bullied.

But why did they pick on me? From my first person protagonist point-of-view, I was nice, honest, compassionate, and innocent.. But what happens if I practice a little detachment and look at that little-girl me with a third person omniscient viewpoint?  Then those same traits can be seen as weak, ignorant, na├»ve, and immature. It was the same seemingly positive attributes that resulted in me being targeted as a victim.

Using that detached third person omniscient analysis, I can also see that comparing myself to the girl who bullied resulted in a handful of ‘false truths’ that began to guide my thoughts, decisions, and actions. These faulty beliefs included:

·                                                                           I am not good enough
  • I am not worthy of friends
  • I am powerless
  • I am a victim

Of course, the other girl’s successes provided her with a few ‘truths’, too. Beliefs such as:

  • I am better
  • I am powerful
  • I am a eader

All this reminiscing makes me realize that developing story characters is helped when I consider the flip side of character attributes—and that sometimes good isn’t necessarily good and bad isn’t always bad. The following freewriting prompts came about as a result of all this ‘detached’ thinking, and I hope they will help me to develop well-rounded story characters.

  • What positive protagonist qualities might the antagonist respect—and even be jealous of? Which of these positive qualities, when taken to an extreme, might be viewed as flaws? In what situations might these positive attributes become weaknesses?
  • What antagonist traits might the protagonist respect—and even be jealous of? Which of these positive qualities, when taken to an extreme, might be viewed as flaws? In what situations might these positive attributes become negative attributes?
  • What faulty belief systems does the protagonist accept as ‘truths’ based on comparisons with the antagonist? How do these beliefs guide the protagonist’s thoughts, decisions, and actions?
  • What faulty belief systems does the antagonist accept as ‘truths’ based comparisons with the protagonist? How do these beliefs guide the antagonist’s thoughts, decisions, and actions?

To this day, I feel sorry for that little-girl me. I wish, though, that she had possessed some of the other girl’s confidence so that she could’ve stood up for herself instead of settling into the role of victim. By the way, I am eternally thankful to the one girl from the other girl’s inner circle who rebelled and crossed the line to become my friend. It took great courage for her to see what was happening, to disagree with the other girl’s actions, and to act on her own ‘truths’!


For more information about bullying and how to stop it, check out www.stopbullying.gov

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Going to the dark side and coming back --- by Jane Kelley

I love a challenge.

Maybe a little too much? Sometimes I wish I could just write a straightforward book, in which likable characters pursue recognizable goals. Wouldn't it be fun to get a puppy? Or a date to the school dance?

But for whatever the reason, my mind doesn't work that way. Even if I start to write a simple ghost story about a family who moves into a creepy house, something twists in my mind. And before you know it, I get obsessed with the idea of how much fun it would be to tell the story from the POV of the ghost.

Cover by Jaime Zollars
Talk about a dark side!

When a character is already dead, she's got nothing to lose.

When a character has been murdered, she has a lot of anger.

When a character was a younger sister, she seethes with resentment.

And when a character has been abandoned by her family just because, well, she is dead, and her only companions are bats and spiders and mice, then she won't be a very pleasant person.

Yet somehow that character befriends a girl named Hannah--perhaps because Hannah has her own sorrows?  Or maybe because they both love books?

There are limits to how close such a friendship could be unless........

If the ghost really wants Hannah to be her BEST FRIEND FOREVER, then something pretty terrible must happen.

If I had completely gone over to the dark side, it would have. But I couldn't kill Hannah.

As much as we enjoy journeying to those frightening places, it's even nicer to come out of the dark to a happy ending.



Monday, September 5, 2016

Light in the Darkness by Deborah Lytton

I didn't expect Jane in Bloom to find a publishing home.  I thought editors might find the story too heavy for middle grade.  Also, the main character has moments where she is really dark.  She is angry, she is jealous, then later she is guilt-ridden and grieving.  But I wrote the character who spoke to me, and I told her story with all the emotions that were part of her journey.  Surprisingly, an editor did want to publish the book.  The dark elements made the story realistic, and the main character someone readers could identify with. 


When I wrote Silence, I also didn't expect the book to find a home.  Again, I thought the story was too heavy and the main character too dark.  She is withdrawn and isolated, and has moments where she can't imagine any future for herself at all.  But I couldn't tell her story any other way.  It turned out that I was wrong again and an editor did want to publish the book.  It was the main character's ability to overcome her setbacks that made her human.  The light that shines in her darkness isn't just part of the story--it is the story. 


It wasn't until I was willing to let my beloved characters be flawed that I found the key to my stories.  Instead of being afraid of making them angry or jealous, I embraced these emotions because it let me sift through the characters to understand them fully.  These characters aren't villains.  To the contrary, they are heroes.  But heroes aren't perfect.  They have darkness in them, and it is our job as writers to find the light in the dark so that they can see their way through our stories.  In allowing our main characters to struggle with their own flaws, we give ourselves stronger material to write.  The depth that comes from these scenes can anchor an entire manuscript.  So don't fear imperfection.  Set your characters free--they just might surprise you in the end.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Because Every Character Needs a Dark Side

Its hard sometimes to give our characters dark sides -- but isn't that what makes them interesting?

Isn't that what makes US interesting?

Reminds me of this comic, which I shared at Live Your Poem last year just after GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee was released:

My father sent me this clipping... along with a
treasure of a letter about his reaction to GO SET A WATCHMAN.
So, bring on the dark! (Good reminder for me as well, as I am mid-way through a 6 week writing challenge where I write 1,000 words a day in a middle grade novel I have written, oh, about 15,263 times!)

Wishing everyone a lovely Labor Day weekend!
---------------------------------------
Irene Latham's first bits of writing were love poems – for her mother. She is the award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY. She also serves as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal and has published three volumes of poetry for adults. Named the winner of the 2016 International Literary Association-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her latest books are poetry for children. Titles include DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, which was named an SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor book, FRESH DELICIOUS:Poems from the Farmers' Market, and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA. irenelatham.com

Friday, September 2, 2016

Going Over to the Dark Side . . . Sort Of By Ann Haywood Leal

Character flaws.  We all have them.  And so should your characters.

Like our children, we want our characters to be perfect, so we naturally want to give them streamlined, worry-free lives where they do no wrong.  But really, where’s the fun in that?  We have to have growth and change in our characters, otherwise, there is no story.  It’s a great big yawner from the first page.

A long time ago I got a handwritten note on my returned manuscript from an editor.  I can still remember it, word for word:  “Your character has no redeeming qualities.” 
Wow.  I guess I went completely to the dark side.  Basically this editor was saying she hated my main character, and not necessarily in a Voldemort Darth Vader love-to-hate sort of way.  

So . . . we need to be somewhere in the middle.  The only way we can do that is to really know our characters.  I used to think I could get to know my character as I schlepped through my story.  But that can get me in a whole world of trouble, sending my character every which way in a confusing story world. 

I will now defer to the late great Ray Bradbury who once said, “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” –THEN start your story.  Some of that information about your character will never make its way into your book.  It will stay inside your head, simmering there as you write.  It will, in fact, affect all of your writing, because what you know about your character will come out in bits and pieces with their dialogue, with the way they walk across the room, the way they interact with the other characters, etc.

I am going to leave you with a writing prompt to get you started:  Darth Vader and Pollyanna had a baby . . . Go!