If you’re a discovery writer, as I am, many things appear in the course of writing a book that you didn’t expect. I’ve talked about plot bombs before. But there are also character appearances…I’m writing a scene, and suddenly–as if thrust up through the stage–there’s a singing, dancing, clown-faced person right there, and he or she won’t go away. Belongs there for some reason. (Or sometimes doesn’t. )
Sometimes I know that “someone” is coming into the story (without knowing who…though sometimes I do know who) at some point, and have anticipated it will be here (no) or over here (no) or surely by chapter Y (no) and then the anticipated arrival bursts in just like the intrusion above. If I have an inkling of who it is, then I often have an idea of the character’s function. This piece of information can only be known to R-, who is going to tell the much more important character, to whom it’s a complete surprise and a call to action…or the new guy/girl is going to be some other kind of problem (like the princesses back in Kings of the North.) The most minor of these characters come with the label “Plot Complication.” The more major, like Elis and Ganlin, bring backstory that’s already entangled with everything else and will themselves play a part in the story to come.
Nonetheless, these characters usually show up individually, not in bunches. And I found Elis and Ganlin interesting in themselves from the first. Right now, though…I have a bunch, or a group, or a gaggle, or a mess (let’s say a mess; it fits) of characters who arrived with the overall label of “Writer’s Problem: Fix.” And they aren’t particularly individually interesting. They’re annoying; they’re cluttering up the story-space; they were inevitable (I knew they were coming sometime, and even–sort of–when); and I can’t get rid of them. I offered them to a writer friend who’s in the throes of writing a big battle scene–there’s a bridge to be blown up, and I thought “Oh, goodie, that’s a solution” but she declined. They won’t all fit under the bridge, for one thing (I’ll bet they would if stacked like cordwood) and anyway she says she has enough to deal with, without my mess of boring characters.
Last night was not a good night, in the sleep way, but lying there not able to sleep, I could of course think about my mess of characters. The thing to do at such times is imagine them as very real people. Who were they before they entered this story? What were they like? In any group that size you have a range of personalities–they can’t all be equally boring in the same way, after all. This one is the golf enthusiast; that one only wants to explain his/her religion; this other one wants to talk about the idiots in his/her job, neighborhood, family…there are lots of ways to be boring. And they’re probably not boring all the way through, if you really know them. (OK, some people are. But not this many in a random group.)
I mentally walked around among them. They aren’t all wearing the same colors, so they have preferences. What are they? Why? This woman and that woman glance at each other and turn away to talk eagerly to someone else…what’s that about? That man is slumped in his seat, looking sad; another speaks to him, he looks up briefly, then subsides into the same posture and expression…what is he grieving? And look–there’s a little cluster–you know this kind of cluster–one talking, heads nodding, sidelong glances at the rest. Someone else saying something, more urgently, but in a low tone. Hands clenching, gesturing, again with the sidelong glances–and they’re not loud–they’re trying not to be overheard. Do we have a plotter here? A little newborn conspiracy thing going on? Are these characters going to be interesting after all?
Well, well, well….so if these still nameless characters are up to something, what kind of something are they up to? Breaking and entering? Mugging? Horse-stealing? Taking over something? Do they know secrets they’re about to reveal, or something they want to bury? They seemed so bland and colorless when they appeared, so lacking in any useful information, so annoyingly boring…I had been thinking of ways to send them all away and warp the story to accomplish that, but now, after all…maybe they have a purpose.
It’s amazing how much questioning you can get done in the middle of a night you can’t sleep. It’s amazing what you can find out, and how the writer-mind then tries out scenarios and rejects this one and that one and the other one and…oh, wait. Now this looks interesting…quite a possibility, in fact. In fact, that would connect a thread from way back to something that…oh, my YES!
Maybe. But this version will have to be written out and given the nod or the heave-ho when it’s much, much farther along.
I’m going to have to give them names.