Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Welcome back. First, I’ll responding to a comment and a question from yesterday.
Brandilyn, you said: "a point or two of goodness or gentleness can make the guy far more chilling, because these points provide a comparison for the evil.” I've heard this advice before, but I don't know if I like it. I think an antagonist can be portrayed as perfectly real but without sympathy.
I agree that a bad guy can be portrayed as all bad, and many of them are. However, I think they become more interesting when they have a little more three-dimensionalism (that’s not a word, but it should be). No one is all good or all bad. Human nature mixes both. But let’s make sure we’re talking the same language here. “Good” is relative. If you’re creating a killer character, the littlest thing that’s not pure evil will look like “good.”
For example, let’s take the bad guy POV in Stain of Guilt. This guy is coming after Annie and is coldly calculating in his eluding of the police. But he loves his family, and he doesn’t want to get caught partly because he doesn’t want his family to be hurt. That’s his good. Or, take the killer in Violet Dawn, who is mostly pure evil. However, he refuses to steal from anyone. That’s his “good.” No matter that as an assassin he’s killed countless people. He can’t abide a thief. And there’s a scene on the beach when a little girl throws her ball and it bounces against him. He smiles at her and gently throws back the ball, telling her mother, who’s scolding her, not to worry about it because “he loves children.” Hey, so what if he’s killed a few? When he leaves the beach, he makes sure to catch the little girl’s eye so he can wink at her. He’s shown the girl kindness. Now you could certainly argue it’s all part of his façade so people won’t know who he really is. But he still was able to be nice rather than snarl at the kid. This is his “good.” I believe that kindness to the girl is far more chilling than if he’d growled at her.
How did you go about keeping all the details straight in your books when you first started writing? When you have plots, sub-plots and all sorts of character quirks, how do you not forget who did what, when, how, where and why over the course of a several year writing process?
It is hard to keep track of characters. You can jot notes every time you write a bit of description about a character, or a bit of background information. Some authors keep spreadsheets for this type of thing. I keep most of it in my head. And when I forget if a minor character’s eyes are blue or brown or green, I do a “find” search in the manuscript to remind myself.
These details are why all authors need an excellent copyeditor. And they’re hard to find. The copyeditor is not the same as the macro editor, who’s looking at characterization and story structure and the big stuff. The copyeditor at the house comes along after all the macro editing and author rewriting, and looks for tiny details, like a white blouse worn on page 20 becoming being on page 150. My copyeditor catches me on plenty stuff, even after I’ve refined and refined all these details.
Okay, on to an outline of what we’ve covered in plotting so far, just to help y’all visual people keep it straight. This outline refers to my suspense plots. Adapt it as you need for your own genre. Remember that you don’t have to figure out all the points in order. Move back and forth as ideas flow. For example, you might first know more about III, the antagonist, than you do II, the protagonist.
I. Discover basics about the triangle points.
A. Protagonist—career, age, family, etc.
B. Antagonist—why he has committed the crime(s)
C. Crime—who was killed, how, when
II. Discover more specifics for protagonist
A. How she is involved in the crime, and what she must do about it
B. Personal problems she faces, and what she must do about them
C. Her Desire (at least two-pronged and specific)
III. Discover more specifics about antagonist
1. More specifics on why he committed the crime(s)
2. What is in his background that made him a killer—personal issues 3. Self-justification—how he rationalizes the need for the
4. Point of goodness/sympathy—some aspect that keeps him from being all bad
5. Personality quirks—which will affect his voice
The next step should now look obvious:
IV. Discover more specifics about crime
A. How and when executed, down to minute details
B. Evidence left at scene
C. Whereabouts of all characters when crime is committed
D. Who will discover crime and what person will do about it
This step is a tough one and takes a lot of thinking and planning, and throwing out ideas, and thinking and planning some more. It doesn’t matter whether this crime is committed onstage or off (as backstory)—I still have to know every detail of what happened. In my stories, these details can drive me crazy, because there are a million of them, and they’re all connected, like this giant maze. If I change one aspect, that change can take me down a different path in the maze.
I certainly don’t have all these details figured out before I start writing. I keep thinking of more and more as the story unfolds. There’s no way I could figure all this out right up front. That’s because the main plots in my novels are never just one story. They’re actually two, running parallel. It’s like I’m playing two maze video games at once, one with my right hand and one with my left. This, my dear BGs, is the primary source of my insanity while I write. (My insanity when I’m not writing is entirely another matter.)
More on these dual mazes tomorrow.
Read Part 6