Friday, March 21, 2014

Stalking the Elusive Character

I just finished revising my first book last week. As you might expect, there was much cold-blooded murdering of darlings, which actually turned out to be the easy part. My editor and I both agreed they were entertaining guests who also dropped their dirty underwear on the bathroom floor, crashed on the couch, and didn't really do much to move the plot anywhere.

No regrets. I'm lousy at goodbyes, so…

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The harder part was the new scenes she wanted. Because they mostly revolved around my main character, who I knew intimately, and her love interest, who I was starting to realize I didn't know at all.

That's quite something when your book is coming out in a few months, wouldn't you say?

Now, Will had already gone through a few incarnations at this point. In one draft, he was a complete wanker when they met and hated Jansin's guts at first sight. I later decided this was a bit much, not to mention kind of clich├ęd, so I did a full one-eighty and made him really nice and decent and kind etc. etc. etc.

Well, that wasn't working either.

I was having trouble writing dialogue for them, usually a sign of larger problems. Like the fact that I was having trouble getting a handle on the entire arc of their relationship.  

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Yes. Yes, it does.

Especially when your final draft is due in three weeks.

I only started to figure Will out once I thought of him as a fully-fledged person separate from my MC and their attraction/friction for each other. He wasn't a wanker and he wasn't Mr. Perfect. He was somewhere in the middle. He'd been through some pretty bad things in his life, and he'd built up a whole arsenal of defense mechanisms to deal with it, like most of us do. He had one face that he showed to the world, and one face he kept to himself. And—also like most of us—he was neither and both.

Let me say right here, I'm not a pantser. I've tried, Lord knows. It's a wonderful way of writing because it allows the story to meander where it wants to go spontaneously. Stephen King, the archduke of pantsers, compares it to unearthing dinosaur bones with a tiny little brush. The problem is that in my case, two entirely separate parts of my brain do the plotting and the writing, and when I try to get them to work in harmony, at the same time, it's like an episode of Laverne & Shirley. One in which they herd cats. 

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Complete gridlock.

Which we all know ends only one way…

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But in Will's case, I was desperate. So I gave the pantser route another try. And it actually worked. I started expanding on an early scene with Jansin, and she suddenly compares him to an actuary, which is the most boring, dry profession she can think of, and it was like…ahhhhh. Light. In brain. Clicks on.

Because Will can be horribly stuffy. He can be arrogant and…what's the exact opposite of fun? But he's also tough as nails, and he has a deep well of passion inside him that's almost scary. Still waters and all that.

Will the Actuary became a running joke and metaphor that I happily milked for every last drop. Including the ironic fact that actuaries (a fancy name for risk analysts) contracted by the military were the first to propose humanity go underground to escape the superstorms.

But I had to let that book sit and not look at it for nearly a year before my light went on. And then it felt like someone I'd been dying to meet my whole life—someone I knew in my heart already—was finally standing outside my front door.

Or in the, uh, nearest foggy, atmospheric field, at least.

Kat's debut dystopian sci-fi (with mutants!) Some Fine Day comes out July 1, 2014 from Strange Chemistry.

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