Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How a character can springboard into life from a throw-away line

There are many ways novel characters are created. Sometimes they are servants to the plot and never rise above their role. Sometimes they start out shadowy and insubstantial and they grow and flesh themselves out during the writing process. And sometimes they bound to life in one giant leap. Let me tell you about one such.

His name is Jebbin, he is an apprentice to the village wise man and in his first appearance in Crimson Dream, he says. "No, master. The sun hangs in the low in the eastern sky and those who are called to serve, must serve."

After writing the sentence my first thought was: who jumped in front of me and wrote those words and from from which mental institution did they escape? I reached rapidly for the delete key but I restrained myself. It's a first draft; no editing allowed. So, I continued writing, content that the line would be jettisoned on the first run through.

When I returned in editing mode, my fingers hovered over the delete key, but I paused to consider. Jebbin was studying the old histories and myths of their people. These stories could have archaic poetic language such as the line above, so Jebbin would be exposed to similar phrases. But what kind of person would use those words in general conversation? Would he be pompous? Book smart but not emotional intelligent? Perhaps egotistical? Dutiful to the letter of the law rather than the spirit? Slightly overbearing? I think the line can suggest all those things and more.

So now we have a flavour of Jebbin's character. And how do we tell the reader all these things about Jebbin? It's already done; they just have to read that line of dialogue. So, in a chapter that bares little resemblance to its original form, that line (so close to disappearing immediately) remains untouched. "No, master. The sun hangs in the low in the eastern sky and those who are called to serve, must serve."

And now, Jebbin speaks again. Behold, my people for a joyous occasion is upon us. The mighty tome, Crimson Dream, springs newborn into the world.

1 comment:

Karen McGrath said...

Great post, David. It's so surprising what characters will do if you let them! ;)