Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Evolution of the Character and Other Happy Accidents

When I was writing my latest novel titled “Haley Cork and the Blue Door”, I did all of the usual things an author might do. I wrote out a plot, and a short list of characters, as well as the setting and special elements which would tie everything together. The mechanics were essentially the same as writing a script or an epic poem, but those don't have the level of detail which takes the process to the next step.

When I sketched out Haley Cork, I wanted an innocent 10 to 12 year old girl who evolved over the course of the story into a powerful heroine. There's only one problem with taking a 10 year old girl and doing that though. Most 10 year old girls are just finding out about boys and makeup, and could care less about saving the universe. They are still children and devoted to mommy and dolls, while at the same time, are heavily influenced by popular culture. It's rather difficult to take any 10 year old and make them even do their school work, let alone step through a Blue Door and battle monsters. Thus I had to make Haley something special to start off with. Instead of the maladjusted youths seen so often in novels these days, I chose instead to take a well behaved little girl, who loves her mother, and grandfather, who goes to church and loves God, and who is all around sweet, and toss her, giblets and all into the meat grinder life of a Keeper. Not very nice, I know, but somebody has to do it. The question I had, while I was writing the events around her plot-line was how far away from humanity must I take her before the reader's sympathies are strained to the breaking point.

At first, I had Haley becoming immediately invested with all of the fancy powers so often seen in super heroes, but what do you do with the character once she can already shoot laser beams out of her eyes and open nuclear missiles with her teeth? That's not to say Haley ever has the slighter inclination to do either. No, it became very clear, Haley as well as the other characters had to develop in a gradual manner and discover things for themselves in a continuous expanding arc. This is the sort of thing you read in creative writing textbooks, which I recently reviewed after initially messing the whole thing up.

The other problem I had was the villain, a nameless monster known merely as the Enemy. I wanted to write more than your simple Good versus Evil book, and explore concepts somewhat foreign to western society. My villain starts out as a murderous yet anonymous being who can control people from a long distance, and ends up more or less a petulant child having a tantrum. It's not nice to do that to any self-respecting super-villain, but I did, and that was that. The problem with that particular approach, is when your villain must start out as nasty as possible, how can you make him any worse without bumping up the, “Oh my goodness, he shouldn't of written that!” meter. Over all, I think I managed to balance nastiness with petulance rather nicely, though the Enemy probably would have wanted a significantly different outcome.

One thing I did learn, over this roller coaster ride of writing, was the following: Never, no matter what the urge, rationalization, or other spurious motivation, ever write the last and final chapter first. I did, and it was a rather stupid thing to do. Fortunately, like folding a hand at the right moment in poker, I tossed that lemon and started at the front, like I should have, after only wasting the first week in my mad writing adventure. When I read the last chapter I wrote first, I have have discovered it bears no resemblance to the last chapter I correctly wrote last.

The other, more significant thing I discovered, I completely enjoyed the process of writing at nearly every stage, and given the circumstances of my life these day, that's definitely saying something. If and when “Haley Cork and the Blue Door” hits the bookshelves in your neighborhood, don't skip ahead to the last chapter like I did.

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