My response to a “describe your main character” challenge on a FB writers group…

The first thing fellow Greatest noticed about Tir’at~Esk was the hue of his feathers: the rich blue of a winter sky just starting to darken toward evening, with dashing accents of black down the length of the long feathers and flashes of white at the tips. In combination with his black hide (visible on his muzzle, his hands, and his lower legs), which was daintily streaked with scarlet stripes, it created a most dramatic effect. The second thing one noticed was the way he carried himself: head erect on his long graceful neck, his scythe-claws confidently cocked back, his stride steady and full of confidence. And finally, one saw the flash of silver on his left forearm: the Source-forged vambrace given to him on the orders of the Sky Emperor Himself, inscribed with the sacred characters of the Word and capable of recording both his thoughts and everything which happened in his immediate environment — for Tir’at was an ~Esk, a courier/scribe, and in his own opinion the finest example of an ~Esk to grace the Settlement of the Culture of the Word in many a long generation. That this sentiment might not be shared by his fellow Warriors did not trouble him in the least.

Tirat COLOUR WINGS_col

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Question on a FB writers group: “Why is your villain a villain?”

My answer, for “The Codex of Desire”:
Ev’ora is the villain because her “greatest good” is her goal to remain the Most Potent Chieftess of the Tribes of the Inspiration — and her fertility is failing. Unless she produces eggs regularly, she will be overthrown and cast down, possibly even killed… and all the work she’s done to improve the lot of the Tribes will be lost.

Everything she does is in service to maintaining her role as queen of her people. And the MMC, who is a captive warrior from an enemy civilization, may provide fresh semen to stimulate Ev’ora’s fertility, if she can convince him to mate with her (since no male can be mated by sheer force). So she schemes, she kills, she manipulates — but as far as she is concerned, she’s doing it for the best of all possible reasons.

Evora COLOUR WINGS_col

“Characters Gone Wild!” Or, what to do when they stop being two-dimensional and start being, well, themselves.

Silvija Baltgalvis, in the FB group “Writers Helping Writers”, asked: “Kind of an odd question here,,,but,,, in writing a story do your characters develop so much they start to take the story in directions you never saw coming?”

My Short Answer: Yes. They’re the ones living and telling the story. When they take on a life of their own, that is (for me) the best possible sign!

My Longer Answer: Yes, and that’s when the real joy of my personal writing process begins.

When characters “go live” and start acting of their own accord, there’s always the danger that they’ll hare off in directions that run counter to your original plans for the novel. Now, for many years I was a total pantser, so all that “running away in strange directions” stuff didn’t bother me much. All I needed to do was follow the characters fast enough to keep up with them and write down what they thought/said/did.

When it came to writing “The Codex of Desire”, however, I took a different approach. I had sat down in advance and mocked up a quick summary for each of the major chapters — and therefore when Girn’ash took over the story and made it her own, or when U’nuk stepped out of the background and revealed himself as a “live” character with his own motivations and inner life (I had never met him before in my life, incidentally), I had a choice: either grab the characters and drag them back into line with what I’d planned at the beginning, or give them their heads and let them take me where THEY wanted to go.

That’s a moment, I think, when almost any writer truly balances on the knife’s edge, not sure which side leads back to the frying pan, where a delicious meal is being prepared, and which side leads straight into the fire — and disaster.

However, this is where writing nearly 1.25 million words of fan fiction in the past — and pantsing all of it — stood me in excellent stead. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to new characters leaping out of the woodwork and insinuating themselves into my story, or to my main characters deciding to take the left-hand path when I had thought they’d go to the right. And in EVERY SINGLE CASE where I’d trusted the Writing Machine (TM) in my head, the story had turned out much better for it. The “live” characters ALWAYS acted in a way that ultimately tied in with the greater plot of the story, and often in ways that brought in rich new themes or subplots.

I could rely not only on the Writing Machine (TM), but also on these strangely independent psychological constructs which felt like individuals sharing my brain space. Although I couldn’t always see the grander pattern they were weaving in their individual actions, those actions would inevitably form a tapestry which was often much better and richer than anything I could have come up with by myself, had I tried to consciously micro-manage every little thing.

So to come back to the original question… that moment when my characters start to go “off-model” is actually the moment I’m waiting for. Because when they start to surprise me and make their own demands, that’s when the magic really begins. 🙂

“Tell me about a character…”

Chronic pain is once again delivering a serious hit to my battery life, so today I’ll be addressing my response to a question posed on the Fiction Writing FB group several days ago.

The question: “Tell me about a character (or several) that you intended to have a small part for but ended up liking them so much that you gave them a much bigger part in your story.”

And my response:

The Chief Cook in my recently published novel, “The Codex of Desire”. He was the classic case of a character stepping out of the wings and grabbing a much bigger role for himself, just through the strength of his personality. (He also turned out to be EXTREMELY important to the FMC, but I don’t want to post any spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say about that.)

His name is U’nur, he’s a rare male who is not tied to a female’s harem (this being a matriarchal society), and he’s even rarer in being a genuinely kind individual in a species known for its predatory ruthlessness. He’s been watching over the FMC since she was hatched, although she doesn’t discover this until halfway through “Codex”. As well as being a cook, he’s an herbalist who creates medicines from plant extracts (one of which becomes central to the novel’s plot). The first time I noticed him was when he hailed the FMC out of the blue to offer her a bowl of meat scraps — prior to that I hadn’t even realized he existed — and he just sort of grew from there. 🙂

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On further reflection today, I also have to acknowledge the Leader of the Furies, Fir’ala~Enk. She also came out of the darkness (literally out of the pitch-black night in the novel) and spoke in a voice so clear, so utterly hers, that I was instantly captivated.

Like U’nur, Fir’ala seemed to step from the wings and take centre stage as a fully realized individual. I never planned her, I never sat down and wrote out a character sheet for her, she simply existed as a distinct individual from the instant I “met” her. And she ended up becoming one of Tir’at’s deadliest enemies — but that’s another story. 🙂

NaNoWriMo 2018: “Where Darkness Falls”, The Understructure

I mentioned that 2018 will be my third take on “WDF” — the first being during NaNo 2011, the second during NaNo 2012. In 2011 I racked up 4072 words on the project, but in 2012 I managed to crack out 51874 words (winner winner, NaNo dinner!), which did not finish the first draft, unfortunately. For the next two years I worked on different projects (“Hateseed” in 2013, another win, and “Micro Noir” in 2014), then tackled “The Codex of Desire” (winner, 2015).

Come 2016 I listed “WDF” as my NaNo project, but after expending so much energy wrapping up the first draft of “Codex” that year I ended up taking a long rest that included November, and thus I racked up a zero word count for “WDF”. Subconsciously I was abiding by a profound inner truth: if I split my attention between two novels, I would never get “Codex” done. I’m one of those authors who needs to concentrate on a single major project at a time. So — “WDF” was set aside, as much as I love the damned thing, until “Codex” was finished, edited, and finally published.

Why do I say “the damned thing”? Because “WDF” (unlike “Codex”, which was elegant from the start and flowed as smooth as fresh cream) is without doubt a problem child.

For one thing, it takes place in 2038 in Chicago — a city I have visited only once, necessitating a HUGE amount of research and a lot of guesswork. (Why, oh why did I have to include the city’s underground tunnel system as a key aspect of the story? Because the story demanded it, that’s why! *lays head on desk*)

For another thing… did I mention it takes place in 2038? Cue a lot more research, and stretching my imagination to come up with appropriate technological advances. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun! But anybody who writes into the future is always a bit anxious, I think, about how well their novel will “age” as the year it’s set in draws closer.)

For another other thing, it involves a Southern Baptist main character, and I am SO anxious to portray the belief system with both its warts and its stellar points, just as I’m anxious to portray Wicca (Kavelin’s religion) in the same way.

Speaking of characters… neither Anderson nor Kavelin is particularly likeable at the beginning of the story, at least not to me. I adore them AS characters, but they’re both bigots and they’ve both got a mean temper on them. Yes, they WILL learn and grow as the novel progresses, but there’s a certain amount of anxiety involved in writing characters who aren’t congenial from the first paragraph.

And not lastly (but last for now), this project involves writing a scene toward the end which has torn my heart out even in the drafting phase, so I know that putting it down word for word will leave me shaken and probably in tears.

No, “WDF” is a novel that is going to stretch me and test me in ways that “Codex” did not (and believe me, “Codex” turned out to be both a marathon and a gruelling gymnastics routine).

And you know something?

I can hardly wait.

Bring it on, NaNo 2018! 🙂 Let’s get that first draft DONE!

NaNoWriMo 2018 Project: “Where Darkness Falls”, Take Three

Yep, you read that right: NaNo 2018 will be my THIRD kick at the “WDF” can.

I started the project during NaNo 2011, based (if I recall correctly) on a single potent mental image which came to me out of the blue a couple of months before NaNo that year. I’m a comic book colourist by trade, and what I saw in my mind’s eye was a splash page in the style of Charlie Adlerd’s “X-Files” work, painted all in muddy greys: a nightmarish figure, half-woman and half-crow, rising into the night out of a grove of November trees. The shot was taken from around chest level of the figures on the ground: a man and a woman, each carrying a slightly futuristic handgun. They were watching the crow-woman rise with anger, but without fear, while the policemen around them looked utterly terrified.

I knew that at their feet (out of the shot) lay the remains of a grisly human sacrificial victim, his heart torn out by the crow-woman’s beak. And that was the moment when “WDF” was born, although it took me a while to figure out who everybody in the shot actually was.

The woman turned out to be Tatiana Kavelin, a Manifester/Special Ops Agent with the Department of Paranormal Investigations (DPNI), Chicago Office, Wiccan Division. The man was Jeremy Anderson, a Manifester/Special Ops Agent with the DPNI, Chicago Office, Christian Division. The crow-woman was… well, I want to avoid spoilers, so let’s just say that she’s also a Manifester but definitely NOT dedicated to serving the public good.

What is a Manifester? Briefly stated, a Manifester is a human being who manifests supernatural abilities in line with their religious or spiritual beliefs. The earliest recorded tale of a Manifester dates back to the Babylonian Empire — a story not known (or at least not spoken of) among non-Manifester historians — when Hammurabi decreed that the strong should not overwhelm the weak, and established the Children of Marduk to protect those without special spiritual gifts. The Children of Marduk were tasked with hunting down and destroying any other Manifester who did not swear to nurture the rest of humankind. After the collapse of Babylon, and through all the millennia that followed, the Children of Marduk carried out their mission in secret, although the names and structures of their organizations changed to suit the times. And the predatory Gifted, who were persecuted by them, lived even deeper in the shadows, vowing that one day they would rule the world as was (to them) their birthright by virtue of their Powers.

Agent Kavelin and Agent Anderson, who must work together by order of their superiors but who loathe each other across the divide of their very different religions, find themselves the only ones guarding the safety of the vast majority of humankind — who have no idea that the DPNI exists, or that the Gifted are striving to bring about Armageddon. Thus the central question of the novel: Can they overcome their mutual antipathy in time to avert the end of civilization as they know it?

More about “WDF” in tomorrow’s post. For now, here are my “face claim” pictures for the two main characters.

Nick Tag as Jeremy Anderson:

nick-tag_as Jeremy Anderson

And Idina Menzel as Tatiana Kavelin:

idinaMenzel