I love it when that happens, don’t you?
Last Saturday, I was in a quandary. A pickle, as Shakespeare would say. I’ve lately been thinking a lot about the novel I’m supposed to be editing. For me, a lot of the beginning editing process is brainstorming– finding characters and scenes to combine, filling in plot holes and errant storylines, and eliminating infodumps. Most of my recent posts have been about things I’ve just realized, such as the Behold! character, the clumsiness of beginning chapters and scenes with blocks of dialogue, and regularly scheduled plot twists. All these things are factoring into my editing process as I try to get scenes to perfection.
But sometimes you just do it wrong. On Wednesday, I rewrote the very first scene that I was actually going to keep from the original manuscript. I tried to write it without all the big words and out-of-body experiences I used during the first draft, but the way the scene was set up prevented me from making any enormous changes. If anything, the scene got more choked up. I didn’t like it any more than the first version. Over the next few days, I finally discovered my problem: I wasn’t eating the right colored bananas. That, and my character was forced to stay silent for an entire scene. In third-person limited, I like to keep thoughts out of the description; unfortunately, without any dialogue, my character was just a person walking through a house. I described things, but there was nothing to show what the character was thinking. One way to show thoughts is to show speech. I decided I needed more dialogue in the scene– but it’s one character, walking through an empty house, and he doesn’t start talking to thin air until the last half of the book! (Well, not entirely thin air even then. He talks to cold patches. And they talk back, which is creepy.)
So, I thought, I need another character. A foil character. A Robin to my Batman, a Chewbacca to my Han Solo, a Will Turner to my Captain Jack Sparrow. I needed someone to be next to my main character when he wasn’t in the crowd.
I went through a couple ideas. The guy who isn’t affiliated with my main character at this point, but gets acquainted on the other end of a whip? Nah. A fluffy fantasy creature that rides on his shoulder? No; it wouldn’t have any other place in the story. Thin air? That comes later. But I needed something.
I put that question on the shelf for a few days and thought about another question. I wanted two characters to actually know each other so that when one of them dies, the other, the main character, will be sad. What’s the point of dying if nobody’s sad? (Unless you’re able to saddle someone with your man-eating poodle as an inheritance. That would be worth dying for.) I wanted these two characters to know each other, and with them both conscious at the same time for only five minutes in the first draft, that would be difficult.
Then, as often happens with my novel ideas, the two problems came together in a glorious concoction. They would solve their own problems! I just stick the two characters together early (which is entirely plausible, due to a kidnapping and a mutual employer), and Bob’s your uncle. One gets someone to talk to, and the other gets someone to cry after they die. (Heartless, I know. This is what you should expect for the future of YA.)
I love it when that happens, don’t you? I love aha moments. And plot twists. And cats (because they’re evil– post on that soon).
Oh, and the Thursday night, I wrote the first real chapter (after the prologue) of the story on a legal pad, with a nameless character I temporarily called ____. It sounds like the first scene of a movie (after the prologue), because I used the Behold! character idea a lot.
And as the last aside of the post, I recently watched both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. I was surprised to find that I could quote so much of the movie a few seconds before the characters said their lines. I’m less surprised at how many times Legolas says something stupid, or looks ponderously at the horizon, inviting us to admire his hair. I shall leave you with a few of the most useless Legolas quotes I could think of from the movies. Legolas, just so you know, is the hypothetical father of all Behold! characters. (Also, notice that every scene held only in Elvish is done that way because it would only sound cheesy in the Common Tongue. Put it in Elvish, and the love scenes become original, the acting good, and the writing excellent. Put it in English, and you’re bored already. But when they need vocal inflection, they slip into English. Because subtitles just don’t cut it. Anyway, your Legolas lines.)
“A diversion!” (That’s what Aragorn was saying for the last five minutes.)
“This forest is old.” (Yes, thank you, Legolas. We can tell by the size of the trees.)
“You look terrible.” (Yes, Aragorn pales in comparison to the immaculately groomed elves. And his stringy, sweaty hair– how could it ever match your long, flowing braid? Perhaps you would like to loan him your shampoo, Legolas.)
And the one thing he ever says that isn’t obviously true: “You lie!”