Thursday, January 24, 2013

Letting Pushy Characters Take Control, Part Two



Even though characters help authors turn good stories into great ones, some characters have their own ideas about what’s going to happen next – regardless of what the authors’ story outline says.
Case in point: April Schaures, a personality in our most recent Silverville project, The Magicke Outhouse. Created as an afterthought to complement the story’s protagonist, April pushed her way into the plot as one of the most colorful characters who’s ever visited Silverville. It was creepy, like she was waiting in the wings for a casting call. Creepy because she “possessed” us both at the same time, with surprising flair that seemed to come from nowhere. April really challenges our notion of where we thought characters originate. Even stranger, neither of us has ever known a character like April. But there she was on the page. In the passage below, she’s shining her new supervisor:

April climbed the stairs and opened the heavy door of the Silverville Public Library.
An older woman standing behind the circulation desk looked up. Had to be Miss Brumbelow, head librarian. The woman smiled and said, “Can I help you with anything?”
April marched to the desk and thrust out her hand. “I’m April.”
The smile melted into a frown. “Your internship started yesterday.”
“Didn’t you get my message?” The one I never sent.
“No, I don’t recall any messages from you.”
April forced a cough and drew a tissue from her pocket. “Really? You didn’t get my note about my recent relapse?”
Miss B appeared to wait for more of an explanation, which April was happy to provide.
“The Uruguayan Flying Worm Syndrome. It flared up again.”
“Excuse me? Uruguay?  I understood you were from Placer City.”
“That’s where I grew up, after a traveling circus brought me into the United States and my parents adopted me.” April blew her nose long and hard into the tissue. “I caught the worm before that, when I was only six. Most people die from it. I was lucky.”
The librarian’s eyes narrowed. “Is it contagious?”
“Not once the worms work their way out of your system. Mine have.” April offered a long-suffering shrug. “But once you get it, it stays with you the rest of your life.”
“Is that why your pupils are so … so pink?”
April bent her head and plucked a small disk from one eye and held it up on her finger for the woman to inspect. “Colored contacts.”
While April replaced the theatrical lens, Miss B heaved a disappointed sigh and retrieved a sheet of paper from under the desk. “Here are the responsibilities I’ve typed up for you.” She handed it to her new intern and motioned her to follow.

We didn’t write April’s dialog; she did. In fact, she just sort of grabbed the reins and ran. We often find that a particular character will determine the direction of a plot. Characters tell us what they need, what they have to say, and where they will and will not go. Unlike April, most of our characters need fleshing out, but once we get to know them, we trust them to guide us to the end of the story. All three novels in the Silverville Saga have taken various twists and turns we hadn’t anticipated as the characters took on lives of their own. We almost felt like spectators rather than writers, our job merely to record what was going on in their universe.