Pushing to the Forefront: Background Characters

So, this was my response to a blog post by S. Hunter Nisbet & R.R. Willica (links at the bottom) and I’m reposting it because it’s a really interesting topic and particularly relevant to me now as I’m drafting MIDNIGHT HOUR (I promise I’ll get a summary on the Writing page soon! Promise!). Three questions were asked:

Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

 

Question the 1st: Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Not consciously, no. Much of it depends on the environment of the story and how well I know it. For example, IN SECRET KEPT is set in a very Anglo-Saxon/Norse inspired world so it’s pretty white. Regional distinctions are mostly based on life-span, hair, and eye colour. That being said, I have a broader sense of geography outside this particular part of the world and in the novella RHEDA (set a few hundred years before SECRET) the MC is (to put in real-world terms) half Saxon and half Arab. Ok, fine. That’s not a background characters. But. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, the entire setting is flipped and it’s a diverse steampunk city so background characters and main characters alike are all kinds of people. The thing with characters is that most of them just pop into my head with their faces already there and I don’t have to think too hard about what they look like. The challenge is in learning to write PoC well (seeing as I’m a white chick), but it’s a challenge I accept. The world isn’t white, nor was I taught to think that it was. Nor is it only male — and since my academic research is focused on women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse lit and I grew up on things like Tolkien and Nancy Drew…well, let’s just say my ladies and my men share the limelight equally. And I’m a sucker for women with swords. EOWYN AND BRYNHILDR FTW. Ahem.

 

Question the 2nd: Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

I don’t think so, no. All of my characters have a backstory and I need to know that in order to know who these people are. While the reader might not get the entire backstory as mapped out in my head, I try to weave in enough so that what is happening in the present makes sense and resonates emotionally. MIDNIGHT HOUR is especially challenging in that respect because all of these rogues (because they are all screwed-up sons-of-you-know-what to varying degrees) have connections with each other and backstory that is important to the present narrative (again, to varying degrees). Figuring out when and where to place a flashback scene or a comment in dialogue is tricky and sometimes I write a scene that I love and realize it’s actually not necessary and — more to the point — not doing what I wanted it to do. The thing about MIDNIGHT HOUR, though, is that I realized early on there’s too much story for one book so the sequel (HEART’S BLOOD) will touch on a fairly major backstory point that I can’t deal with in MH. It has me ridiculously excited.😀

 

Question the 3rd: Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

Oh, HELL YES. SECRET has one of those — actually, two. But they’ll be getting their own novella once I figure out what their story is. And actually, I wrote a short story called A ONCE & FUTURE KNIGHT and while it’s told from Gawain’s pov, the moment Jael walks onto the page I’ve been told she nearly upstages him. But that’s fine. Because that’s the kind of lady she is. In fact, the two of them are too big for a short so I’m going to rework it into a novel at some point. >:)

No, I can't say that I did...
                 No, I can’t say that I did…

 

So those are my answers. What are yours? Leave me a comment or check out:

S. Hunter Nisbet’s Post and Excellent Blog

And sure to check out Part Two (coming this week!) on:

R.R. Willica’s Likewise Excellent Blog

 

Ciao!

 

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She’s beauty, she’s grace (she’ll punch you in the face)

Disclaimer: my thesis is about women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse texts and how awesome they are. So yes, I’m biased. What follows is the ramblings of a grad student in love with her subject matter and Agent Peggy Carter.

 

In my thesising today, I was examining the Old English poem Judith which is based on the apocryphal Latin Vulgate text. For those who don’t know the story, the Jewish city of Bethulia is being besieged by the evil general Holofernes. Long story short, the city is saved by Judith who uses her femininity to seduce* the general and subsequently cut off his head. He gets drunk and passes out in her presence.

An interesting variation on this tale is found in The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. Queen Olof pretends to go along with her evil suitor, only to stab him with a sleep thorn when he passes out, drunk, in her chamber. She then tars and feathers him and sends him off packed up in a burlap sack. I kid you not.

Then there’s Jael and Sisera. In the book of Judges, Sisera is a general attacking the Israelites. The judge at the time, Deborah, leads Barak and the Hebrew army to victory, but Sisera escapes. He arrives at Jael’s tent and she offers him hospitality, though he doesn’t know she’s a Hebrew. When he’s asleep, she drives a tent peg through his skull.

And I started noticing a trend. You’d think they’d learn. If you’re an evil general/king/person, do not pass out in the presence of a woman. It will not end well for you. I guarantee it.

Which brings me, perhaps in a not-so-round-about-way to Agent Peggy Carter**. This character means a lot to me***. Not only is Hayley Atwell a dream (I had the ridiculously amazing pleasure of meeting her at Comiccon last summer in a brief 10 second photoshoot, and it remains the HIGHLIGHT of my Comiccon experience), but the character is unashamedly feminine while still kicking ass. She knows her value and retains her moral compass despite all the war took from her. And I love that. And I love that the writers of the show understand that love and romance and happily ever after do not undermine that. With so much media in the atmosphere, it’s hard to escape the still-present message that a woman is incomplete without a man, or that she needs to look or act a certain way, etc. And here we have the brilliant Peggy Carter putting her fist through it all and saying You are enough. And when love does come calling****, she reaches for it as a whole person which makes it so much more beautiful*****.

And this is something I love about the heroines I’m studying, some of whom I’ve mentioned. They say loudly through their actions that They are enough and that they, as women, will get the job done. Any job.

As Shakespeare put it so eloquently, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

beauty

grace

face

(all gifs from: http://ctgraphy.tumblr.com/post/109153691032/fitzwich-inspired-guess-what-i-started)

 

Peace out.

 

 

*the OE text is rather uneasy with Judith’s sexuality in this regard and downplays it to a certain extent while the Vulgate makes no bones about it. Just fyi.

**If you’re not watching Agent Carter then what are you even doing with your life?

***As in, she’s up there with Eowyn and Jane Eyre, but those are whole other blog posts and I’ll get to them eventually. 😛

****In the form of the delightful Daniel Sousa. Talk about a beautiful love story. *melts*married

*****I was totally grinning and cheering like an idiot during the final moments of the season finale (um…sorry Jack). NOW I NEED SEASON 3 DAMMIT.