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.

3486167-tardisfastflight

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!

 

Bump in the Night: Thoughts on the new novel

New project time!

Well, it’s been that time for a while now, but whatever.

This is a project that was, I kid you not, inspired by a single image I saw on Pinterest. This one:

Originally found on http://haufsbeautifulcreatures.tumblr.com/
Originally found on    http://haufsbeautifulcreatures.tumblr.com/

And once I started thinking about it I couldn’t stop and it just snowballed from there. In fact, it snowballed so much it’s grown to be two books because there’s too much story. Its working title is The Midnight Hour and is…as different from In Secret Kept as it’s possible to be. And I love it. I knew I wanted to write something completely opposite and so I find myself writing “penny dreadful meets steampunk” (always for adults). It’s dark and twisted and my characters are seriously messed up*: thieves and assassins and smugglers. Anti-heros all.

I love them so.

 

Ok. Maybe my characters should start running....
Ok. Maybe my characters should start running….

 

And by “penny dreadful” I’m not referring to the TV series (I haven’t seen it yet but I want to, because Timothy Dalton, hello), but the 19th century serial publications that were, in many cases, horror. Think Dracula, Dorian Gray, etc. And the thing with Victorian horror is it was never (or not usually) just about the horror – much of it was their way of exploring the taboo. If you’ve read Dracula** it’s fairly obvious what major themes are going on in there: sex and death. Frankenstein*** deals with life and death and the relationship of science and God.

So I’m thinking about all this as I’m writing. And the writing is coming, though it’s painfully slow. Academia is taking up much of my time, but the characters and the story are straining, trying to break free. It’s time to tell their story.

On that note, I’m going to go and heed their voices. But first, here’s some of the musical inspiration:

 

SINISTER KID by The Black Keys

 

WHO WILL SAVE YOU NOW? by Les Friction

 

 

Ciao!

 

 

*They also really, really, really hate me.

** Which is amazing and Mina Harker FTW.

***Also excellent. And recognized as the first science fiction novel. Mary Shelley FTW.

A whole new world!

So while IN SECRET KEPT is simmering in the lockbox and guarded by dwarves and dragons, I’ve been attempting to wrench my mind onto the next project. The effort has been Herculean because my fingers are itching to get back to SECRET and start working on the three pages of notes I have for revision.

BUT I MUST CULTIVATE PATIENCE.

doctor
And then comes the Doctor, and whispers words of wisdom…

 

Yeah…

ANYHOW.

So I’ve been working on the new novel, of the steampunk variety. Originally it was set in the same world as SECRET, just at a later point in history. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t. There were things I wanted to do with the story that I couldn’t do if it was set in that world. So I pulled it out.

And that’s when everything EXPLODED.

 

With this newfound freedom (if you will), the project definitely became a novel (huzzah! I was never happy with it just as a short) and I started seeing new characters and relationships and possibilities, oh my!

It’s also terrifying because it’s a whole new world (sing with me! You know you want to!). This is not something I’ve been living with for years, this is something brand-spanking new.

So once more into breach and boldly going where I’ve not gone before, and all that jazz.

See you on the other side.

Did someone say…STEAMPUNK???

…among other things…

…namely the fact that the bottom has dropped out of the temperature and looks like it’s going to stay there for the foreseeable future.

 

coulson-notmydivision
Phil Coulson is not impressed

ANYHOW.

So the other week as I was working on the novel, I came to the realization that it is set in the Steampunk age of this world. It was the fact that a character mentioned an airship that clued me in. And I squeed.

 

steampunk-blimp-pictures-1a
Airship love.

Isn’t that beautiful? *sighs*

As the writing went on, the vision of this glorious, bright, bustling, steampunk harbor city popped into my head and I got all excited until I realized that there’s only a small glimpse of it in the novel. <cricket noises> So I whined to a friend of mine and she just laughed and told me to use it in the sequel. Except that this novel won’t have a sequel. And besides, I wanna play in that city now.

You can see where this is heading, right?

So I was procrastinating researching on Pinterest (I see you looking at me that way. Stop it.) for images of “steampunk city” and this gem popped up:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/303218987386684718/

I took one look at it and then a (short) story idea, complete with characters, went on to map itself out for me. And it’s set in this city I want to play in. But here’s the kicker: it’s set in the criminal underbelly. So at the end of the novel, you will have a glimpse of the bright surface. But in the short you’ll see what lies beneath. The narrow streets, the dark warrens, the thieves and cutthroats. And I get the feeling it’s going to be dark and bloody. And the characters are pretty cynical, but not without loyalty.

And I love it already.

THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY DAMMIT.

Ahem.

On that note, I’m outta here.

À tantôt!

p.s. currently addicted to “Iris” by the GooGoo Dolls. Enjoy.