Islands and Oceans

I think the above*  perfectly illustrates Alison Janssen ‘s terrific Dead Guy post last week about  character backstory and how it affects (or should) his or her reactions and interactions to everyone and everything.

Backstory is far more complex than a set of statistics on a character sheet.  And, as Ms. Janssen explains so brilliantly, a big part of how to effectively use backstory related to how experiences fade, or not, over time.

My WIP is set five years after an extraction job goes FUBAR.  There are several reasons it all went wrong, and each character involved—some of whom don’t have all the facts—dealt with the aftermath in his or her own way. 

This seems like a classic revenge set up, yes? 

But revenge  may be vichyssoise (or gazpacho, if you prefer), but it takes a certain kind of personality, a considerably heinous crime, or a strong reminder—or all three—to keep those initial feelings of subjectively righteous hatred fresh enough to make sense to the reader.

Or perhaps the five year timeline needs to be tweaked . . .

This isn’t to say that motivations can’t be simple or straightforward . . .but a character’s past experiences also influence his or her ability to make a simple, straightforward decision instead of, say, analyzing it to death.  Ahem, cough.

In other, shorter, words, cardboard floats—but real characters have depth.

I think I’ll go diving today.


*Courtesy of Randall Munroe, super genius.

By Any Other Name, Isn’t Quite the Same

I finished nailing down a particularly tricky chapter about a quarter to midnight last night.  This was far too late for the mother of a brand new second-grader who needed to be driven to school the next morning by someone who remembered the way.

But because I am still pretending, after years of solid evidence to the contrary, that I am a night owl whose brain doesn’t close up shop after ten p.m., I went over the document with spellcheck* and my own bleary eyeballs before firing it off to this project’s first reader.**

I’ve spent the morning checking e-mail for her response, because it’s a pivotal chapter and I wanted to know if the jaw-dropping reveal actually dropped her jaw, and for the right reasons.

I got her e-mail a couple of minutes ago.

“Wow!” she wrote.

Whew, I thought.

“I was thinking that guy was really [main minion], but I wasn’t sure until the last sentence.”


“I can’t wait to know how they knew each other before!  I didn’t even suspect [romantic interest] had a nefarious past, much less an alias!”


That character isn’t supposed to know the minion—the reader does, but our heroine isn’t scheduled to clue in until later.  She isn’t supposed to have a hinky past, either (hence her cluelessness).  Or an alias. 

What she is supposed to have, poor woman, is a writer who, in the last few, crucial bits of dialogue, doesn’t get her characters’ names mixed up with those from a completely different WIP—or one who has the common sense to proofread while awake.

So I have two options here:  I can correct my mistakes to protect the innocent from the idiot, go back to my safe, designated plot—which is almost %$*& finished, by the way— and confess all to my first reader. 

Or . . .

 I can invent a whole different backstory for the character , ditch 94% of my safe designated plot for something potentially 94% more interesting ,  and let my first reader keep thinking I’m brilliant on purpose.***

Aw, hell.

Don’t write tired, kids . . .


*My Word program doesn’t accept the word “spellcheck.”  One is allowed, however, to have spellchecked something in the past with a spellchecker.  I am agog . . .  which it did accept.  I give up.

**I have been blessed with two.  One of them is a fantastic writer, and the other is an equally fantastic reader.  I love them both very, very much.

***If that isn’t another one of my delusions, I’m golden until she reads this post.   Um, hi, Katya . . .surprise!

When Good Characters Go Bad. And Vice-Versa.

If characters come from my own subconscious, why won’t they do what I tell them to?

I’d planned for two of my characters, after years of close friendship before the story begins, to fall in love after a healthy and confusing dose of lust.  Instead, they looked at each other, screamed Incest! and refused to play. 

Apparently, she’s in love with someone else—someone who had a small supporting role before making himself indispensible, for reasons which are obvious now—and he’s still stuck on his poisonous ex-girlfriend, though to his credit, he’s trying very hard to get unstuck.   The poisonous ex-girlfriend just wants to be loved, though her definition of that is just a tad skewed.

This isn’t a romance, by the way.  This is a mystery.  Especially, as it turns out, to me.

There was another character who wasn’t even suppose to make it on-page, except as a corpse.  But he was the only way to get certain information to the MCs, without it being a Citizen Kane Rosebud Moment* or rewriting the entire thing. 

Okay, so that one was a miscalculation on my part.

So I reluctantly let him live until I could arrange a nice, tidy murder . . . and now he’s one of my First Reader’s favorite characters.  She seems to think that killing him would be going too far for the readers.    However much I grumble, she’s usually right . . .

But I’m keeping an eye on him . . . and the woman who is starting to interest him and is busy making herself a main character, too.    There are fates worse than death, and ticking off a writer may be one of them.

Divert my plotline, will they?

But as much as I hate to admit it, all these shenanigans seem to be making the story better.  I like the dynamics among the characters, and the bad guys are developing into real, if unlikable, people.

Guess my subconscious knows better than I do, which is not a comforting thought—there’s some scary stuff in there.  As long as there’s a decent story in there, I’ll play along . . .   but I will have my murder, by hook or by crook. 

Or by a crook with a hook.

Hey, now . . .


*As in, if Kane died alone, how did anyone know his last word was ‘Rosebud’?   And while Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz could get away with a plot hole like that in a script, books are different—and so am I.