SO, HOW'D I COME UP WITH THOSE PEOPLE, ANYWAY?
So, when I first thought about the topic of character development, I immediately started thinking about Kelsey's three best friends – Em, JoJo and Cassidy. It didn't occur to me until just now that I'd completely forgotten about my main character! Well, there's a very good reason for that: there was no development involved. She's me. Go ahead, ask my friends. I'll wait.
Anyway, Kelsey's friends are another story. Originally she had four besties, actually – one of them got cut almost immediately after the book was bought. They wanted to cut two of the girls (yowtch!) but I put my foot down. I couldn't understand why they thought readers would be confused by Kelsey having “so many friends.” Three is “so many?” In real life kids have thirty best friends!
Then I had to edit a book. It is freaking hard to keep track of those pesky characters. It's even harder to make sure they each have a distinctive voice and don't blend into one giant best friend blob. Of course, as with most things, I had to learn this the hard way... but I digress.
So, back to Kelsey's friends. None of the girls is based on a single person the way Kelsey is based on me, but elements and details of people I know (or used to know) certainly crept in there. I wanted each girl to really have her own story, her own specific personality, her own family background, and her own way of speaking. That's one of the things I worked hardest on, and I hope I was successful. But of course, each girl also serves a purpose in the protagonist's – Kelsey's – journey.
Em is Kelsey's Jiminy Cricket. She's the quiet and shy one, but she's also Kelsey's rock. When they have a fight for the first time, the bottom really falls out from under Kelsey. Em centers Kelsey in an important way: sometimes when you're outgoing, you forget that it's okay to sit quietly sometimes. Em is that reminder. She also sticks to her guns; for example, she absolutely doesn't drink alcohol, and she doesn't let anyone make her feel bad about that. That's a key thing for Kelsey, who gets really wrapped up in what other people think, to see.
Cassidy is the most like Kelsey herself, and because of that they tend to butt heads the most. They both have strong opinions and like to be in charge of the group, but they also balance each other out, because they can't BOTH be in charge all the time, right? Cassidy has a very different home life than Kelsey, though, and because of that she tends to act out more. As a result she gets her way a lot more often. This drives Kelsey nuts and also reminds her to be compassionate – despite all her complaints, Kelsey knows she's pretty lucky when it comes to her family and support system. Cass doesn't really have that.
JoJo is the friend who does her own thing and never seems to face any repercussions for being different or boldly charging ahead. Kelsey both envies JoJo's easy-breezy life and cannot fathom how to be that way herself. JoJo never seems to be insecure about anything – how is that possible?! Of course, JoJo has her own journey, but in most things she is truly confident and comfortable with herself. Kelsey looks up to her, but JoJo never looks down. That's a pretty amazing friend to have.
Overall, I developed these characters to act as a unit. The group doesn't really work without all the members, and there's security in that. It also makes it essential for the girls to look out for each other which, especially in a new environment like high school, can be hard to remember. Friendships change, grow, and sometimes end – I wanted Kelsey to see that this was in fact a possibility, and work really hard not to let it happen.
Meredith Zeitlin is a writer and voiceover artist who lives in Brooklyn with two adorable feline roommates. She also writes a column for Ladygunn Magazine, changes her hair color every few months, and has many fancy pairs of spectacles.
In case you're wondering whether any of Kelsey's experiences are based on Meredith's own, the answer is NO WAY. When she was fourteen, Meredith looked and behaved perfectly at all times, was never in a single embarrassing situation, and always rode to school on her very own unicorn.