Taking the Lead: Foreground Characters

So…the other week I posted about background characters, inspired by a post by RR Willica and S. Hunter Nisbet. This is part two. I’ve included the links to the initial posts at the end so you can send some love their way and check out their most excellent blogs!

 

When we speak of background characters vs. foreground, how do you divide them?

This is something that normally comes out when I’m outlining (and I’m just going to state, for the record, that in my case and outline is really more like guidelines. It evolves. IN SECRET KEPT and MIDNIGHT HOUR are both a case in point). I know who the story is about, who it revolves around. Background characters may have varying strengths of voice, and sometimes that will surprise me. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, which has a much larger cast than SECRET, I can still point to it and say “Raoul is the MC”, though he’s not the only POV.

 

At the start of a new story do you have your characters decided or do you just take off running?

Um…I mostly have them figured out. Mostly. But they get clearer in the writing and that’s when I realize some of things I thought they were don’t work. In terms of who’s protagonist or antagonist, though, that doesn’t change. I have that nailed down to begin with or I can’t write.

The thing with MIDNIGHT HOUR that surprised me, though, was the strength of the voice of some more minor characters. Though I wouldn’t call them mains, they’re getting POV chapters because they literally won’t shut up. And I realized that their voices are integral to the story. Given that I’m writing about a band of misfits, you need to understand how they all work together. Since the story is centered on those relationships and how they play out in the face of the evil they’re about to face, knowing who they are as individuals and collectively is crucial.

 

Do you find it’s easier to write multiple POVs vs one character?

Ha. Hahahahahaha. I’ve been writing mostly single POV for a long time. SECRET is mostly told from Alodia’s POV, though I’ll flip to Rinan because the story is about the both of them and it’s necessary to see both sides. MH is…so different. It’s a larger cast with about 5 POVs (that includes my villain). And it’s much more of a challenge because while SECRET was very linear, MH is not. The first 3 chapters are the same night from 3 different POVs. The challenge here is keeping all the threads from getting tangled, and making sure they all converge at the appropriate time so as to resonate emotionally and plot-wise. It’s something I’ve never done before and it terrifies me – which is, as a friend of mine pointed out, a sign that it’s the story I’m supposed to tell.

In terms of choosing who gets a POV…the characters chose it themselves. Obviously Raoul would get one and so does Esmera. But then Amadi and Min proved to be very significant voices as well, so there we go. Other, smaller, POVs may pop up as needed but it’s not something I’ll know right away. It’s something I’ll learn in the telling when I sense there’s a hole.

 

Do you write with a large time-scale?

Somebody get me a TARDIS, stat.

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Time scale is my weakness. I always have a loose idea—actually, scratch that. “Loose idea” is being way to generous. I have a wibbly wobbly timey wimey spacey wacey idea of how long things will take. It’s something I continue to struggle with and usually have to go back and fix things in revision. I am RUBBISH with time-scale.

 

What genre would you classify your novel?

SECRET is high fantasy, definitely (and there are many more stories in that world to come, and I can’t wait to tell them).

MIDNIGHT HOUR is dreadpunk/steampunk/fantasy. If you are unfamiliar with dreadpunk, it is homage to the Victorian horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). And the thing about Victorian horror is it was never (or not always) just about the horror – it was the Victorian’s way of dealing with the taboo. And that makes it so much fun to play with. A great tv example of dreadpunk is PENNY DREADFUL (still haven’t seen it, but I need to…Timothy Dalton and Eva Green? Hello.).

Most of my novels/stories are either a fantasy variant or science fiction. This is my happy place.

 

Do you specifically cast your foreground characters’ gender and appearance or do they create themselves?

I touched on this in my previous post about background characters, so you can read it there. But this also brings to mind the question of language because I’m a language nut and I speak four (and have a tendency to shout at idiot drivers in Russian, ahem). SECRET and MIDNIGHT HOUR both contain non-English languages. To give real-world equivalents for MH: Raoul is French, Esmera is Arab, Amadi is Nigerian, Min is Chinese. So sometimes they will say a word or short phrase in their own language, which, apart from the French, requires research. SECRET (well, actually RHEDA) was my first foray into writing with this dynamic and in getting into the issue of why we don’t italicize non-English languages. Daniel Jose Older has a fantastic video which you can watch HERE.

When it comes down to it, italicizing a language other than English is a way of marking it as other in the way that only mentioning the skin tone of a black person or Native American assumes that the default is white – and the world isn’t white any more than it’s English.

And it makes sense to me. I’m a native English-speaker from Québec, which is officially French. And in Québec we have major tension over language that really dates back to the time the French ceded the colony to British after they lost the war. So now we have this thing called the “Office québécois de la langue francaise”, also known as the language police. I kid you not.  It is entirely possible they will fine your business if, God help you, the English text on your signs is not half the size of the French. Government employees are not required to speak English and I have been discriminated against when it comes to jobs, simply because I’m not Francophone. Fluently bilingual and just as qualified, but as an Anglo — not good enough. So when I’m made to feel that my own language is “other” or “not good enough” then I’m not going to “other-fy” another language by italicizing it.

I would hasten to add that the reason for the existence of the OQLF is because somewhere down the line, they felt the same way. Also, not all Francophones discriminate nor are all Anglos open-minded. This works both ways. But the point remains.

And I mean…give the reader some credit. They don’t need you to point out a non-English word. They’ll get it.

Ok, so that was a rabbit trail. But it’s something else I’ve been thinking about.

Questions or thoughts? Leave me a comment!

 

Also, check out Part One of this series on S. Hunter Nisbet’s Blog

and

Part Two on RR Willica’s blog!

 

Send some love their way 🙂

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!

 

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.

Something old, something new…

…by which I mean, I had a meeting with my thesis supervisor today and it got me thinking. About a lot of things.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

My research focus is, broadly speaking, women in Anglo-Saxon & Old Norse texts. And since I’m only just beginning this venture, I was feeling very. Overwhelmed. By. Everything. That. Has. Already. Been. Written.

And I’m supposed to think of something NEW to say?

 

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Thankfully, my supervisor made me feel a whole lot better and I came away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for why I’m researching this topic in the first place. And not just because I’m huge nerd (which I am. In case that wasn’t obvious).

It’s because the women in these tales are freakin’ awesome.

My fascination with all this grew out of my love for Tolkien. He writes beautifully for women (Melian, Luthien, Galadriel, Arwen, Eowyn, to name a few), giving them depth and presence, and so I wondered at his source material. The ancient tales that inspired him.

And that’s how I discovered Wealhtheow in Beowulf. In the midst of this very masculine heroic world, there walks in a queen. And not just a pretty face, but one with grace, intelligence, and authority; her speeches are written in the imperative, signifying that she is not just a pretty face. She is telling them what to do.

Moving on, there are such Norse figures as Brynhilde, Unn the Deep Minded, Yrsa, and the list just goes on. And yes. There are some who are vicious, jealous figures. But my point is that they have a very distinct presence in the sagas and the elegiac poetry. Some wield swords, some wield magic, some wield words. And they are a force to be reckoned with, even within the constraints of their time.

And they are amazing.

And that, in turn, makes me think of the women I write. They look so different from the characters I used to write. They’ve grown (I hope!!) in presence and strength and power. Some of them will use swords and be bad ass in that way. Some of them use words. Some of them use magic. And I might not agree with all of their choices. But they are based on the things that inspire me from these bright, beautiful, ancient tales. They are based on the awesome women I am privileged to know. And they are all rooted in the fact that being a woman is a beautiful thing. Not without its difficulties, but still a good and beautiful thing.

Waes hal!