Luckbane Update: Raising the Dead and Alternate Timelines

zombiehand“The Luckbane Beta Reader Team is already giving me some great feedback. One of the things that a couple of my early reviewers advised was that I not kill off Jarrod’s best friend in the gaming world: Rogar Thunderhammer.

Basically, he’s too useful as a reflective character to simply buy the farm in chapter one. In case you don’t know, a reflective character is one of several supporting character types. as the name suggests, they help you gain perspective on the protagonist by offering a different viewpoint. In Johnny Came Home, the reflective character was Weasel, John Lazarus’ hapless metalhead friend… who is just as clueless about Johnny’s powers and the world he lives in as we are initially.

Writing a character back into a novel is a whole lot harder than writing one out. During one of the final edits of Johnny, I realized that I had a character that was just cluttering up my plot lines. It was difficult to write Dr. Michelle Phineas out of the story because she was interesting. She was a Titan employee out to capture John Lazarus for the company’s chief rival, Parasol Limited; she had a fear of bridges, having seen the Silver Bridge of Point Pleasant, WV fall; and she had an assistant who had no idea she was about to betray the company. Better still, I had a lot of dialogue that explored creation, evolution and racism invested in her and the pastor of Soul’s Harbor. The problem was that she and Gage Harper [who was her assistant in the original version] spend most of the novel pointlessly chasing after Johnny with no real clue how they’re going to catch him until Parasol actually does the job for her and let’s her tag along. I cried when I wrote her death scene. I wrote her out with a deep sigh of regret. Then I lovingly patched my novel back together, filling in plot holes and giving any essential dialogue or actions she performed to other characters.

But she wouldn’t die! Every time I thought I’d completely erased her, I would find an out-of-place “she” that once belonged to her. Despite liberal use of the Find feature, an actual “Dr. Phineas” managed cling tenaciously to the first edition. At long last, she was gone.

But like I said, writing a character back into a novel is even harder than writing one out. Especially if you don’t just want the character acting and speaking in a peripheral way. You can’t just assign pieces of other characters dialogue to him [although you do that on occasion]; if you’ve given him any thought at all, your character has his own voice.

For example, Rogar is a dwarf. He’s belligerent [when he’s not being a mischievous prankster], loyal to a fault and tough in a fight. He prefers feasting to drinking, though he’s easily capable of drinking Sir Stanley Dragonslayer under the table. His entire wardrobe and manner of speaking is completely different from the aforementioned Sir Stanley, an overmuscled, purple-skinned borog who also happens to be a knight of Greyhelm. Stanley doesn’t like to scheme or plan or or strategize or even think much; he’s just here to fight and have a good time. He’s almost never in a bad mood [unless you mention that whole Reevetown incident]. Stanley would never tell anyone that “You’ll be shutting yer pie-hole or I’ll be shoving my axe into it!” He’s more likely to swat you with the back of one meaty mitt and say, “Oops.”

Any character worth reading about won’t be a stock character. Oh, they’re all based on some archetype or stereotype, but it is essential that we move beyond that. For example, after making the decision to keep his character alive, one of the first things I did to develop Rogar was to give him a last name. Let’s face it: if someone doesn’t have a last name, they’re probably a red shirt. [For my non-geek readers: In the Star Trek universe, if you were wearing a red shirt on the away team, chances were the writers had you scheduled for a nasty demise.] After dubbing him Rogar Thunderhammer, I decided that Thunderhammer was actually his clan name. His clan is famous for making [and wielding] thunderhammers, oversized war hammers that come with an extra kick of electricity with each strike.

What follows is essentially a re-imagining of your novel. To the writer, it’s like stepping into an alternate universe where someone exists who didn’t before. It changes the entire flow of the book. Some things get added. Some scenes/dialogue no longer even make sense in te presence of your new character, forcing you to either furiously rework said scene/dialogue or scrap it altogether. Your new character changes everything. While you may’ve started out with the intention of simply inserting a character into your plot, that very act changes your book. It’s the butterfly effect of the creative process. Raising Rogar Thunderhammer from the dead even changed my book’s ending. You see, a well-conceived character pretty much writes itself. While the author has an idea of where he wants the plot to go, the characters often spoil his plans and go off on their own adventures. If he isn’t careful. the author ends up with a much different book than he intended!

Not that the author is utterly at the mercy of his characters. Like a kid with a flying Delorean, the author [if he’s been smart enough to save his edits as a new file] has a choice between two very different plot lines. If he chooses, he can always go back to the original version and his readers will be none the wiser [provided he has so reverted before publication or has not written a post such as this one], but only at the expense of the character. If you raise the dead, you shouldn’t be surprised that your character has a life of his own.

 

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