Monday, December 8, 2008

The Novel (part 3)

I am writing a novel at the moment, and I periodically report on my progress in this blog. Feel free to email (don't add comments here please) at to offer criticisms, suggestions, or death threats.

It's been a long time since I've updated; so I'll add here what little I've done lately to move the project forward. First, let's cover immediately that my idea of working on The Novel between 4:30-6:30 a.m., was dropped faster than a pregnant cheerleader. Kinda like when I was in college, and I had the idea of an 8:00 a.m. swimming class. My brain simply refuses to work without daylight, except for controlling the most rudimentary body functions, like swallowing beer. However; the house during the day is an absolute riot of noise. Two small dogs, a cockatiel, and blaring Spanish network rip offs of Judge Judy and Jerry Springer make it difficult to even hear the phone ringing. Add a nine year old boy and Eve Online - and you can see we aren't talking Hemingway's hillside cottage in Jamaica. But no more excuses; its time to make the doughnuts.

I've been working on character development. In parts 1 and 2 of these posts, I wrote about the themes I wanted to incorporate. I've set those aside now, and have begun to develop central characters. I'm going to share two secrets. I think I was shown these tricks while still in high school, but damned if I can remember by whom. Otherwise I would gladly give them credit. Here is the first one;

create your characters outside the novel.

By that I mean; begin writing about the people now. Before creating settings, before plot points, before writing key scenes that propel the story forward - make sure you know your characters intimately first. You have to know not only what they look like, but what they've done in the past (back story), and how they think, so they can be "shaped" by their actions in the novel. Character notes are essential.

This second secret may seem a little bizzare, but I swear by it. One problem with many novelists is that they write with one voice only. Characters seem to think and act in the same fashion as the author, no matter the situation. This is easy to understand; as most people don't have the ability to suspend their normal thought processes for entirely new ones. However; this tip gives the writer the opportunity see through a new pair of glasses. The second secret is;

there are eleven astrological signs to choose from for your characters.

Huh? Okay, bear with me. Forget about the merits of Astrology. I am not a believer, but I use the descriptions of astrological signs as "character DNA". By assigning characters signs, I can shortcut personality traits and other info as I prepare them for the story. This will help me understand their behavior later, and hopefully make their behavior different from my own would be.

By the way; the reason I said there are eleven signs to choose from, is that I never assign my own sign to a character. I figure the reader gets enough of me already.

The rest of this post are character notes (so far) for "Campas" and "Sinclair", two of five central characters in the novel. Nothing written here will make its way into the story. This is simply a way for me to create different voices, and create characters from those voices. No doubt, once the novel's action begins, the characters' arc will radically change . You'll notice I've taken a few themes from parts 1 and 2 of these posts and given them to carry during this "birthing" process.

Campas - casting: a Spanish "Penelope" Cruz type between 28 and 32.

The de facto leader of the rebellion. Her boyfriend was the face of the rebellion, but was killed by Nifiheim (the rebellion name for government forces) before the novel begins. Nifiheim is from ancient Norse mythology; it is the land of mist and the dead.

In the future, one man (or woman) can declare war on the world and win.

Campas hides her apprehensiveness about herself and the people around her under a cloak of quiet reserve. She is emotionally distant, shrinks from committing herself to even the most casual friendship, and is careful to keep relationships superficial.

She hides outward displays of feelings because she doesn't trust others, nor does she have confidence in herself and her judgment.

Campas has an excellent eye for detail, which she demonstrates in the novel, but is sometimes so meticulous she fails to see the larger issues. She may slow down projects by being too exact.

Revolutionaires can successfully wage strategic war on nation-states. But if they want the things revolutionaries have always wanted—regional autonomy, a greater share of the economic pie, dominion over ethnic or sectarian rivals, an end to foreign occupation, social revolution, national control—that's a different story.

Campas is a perfectionist, and when things go wrong, she becomes easily discouraged.

Because of her ability to see every angle of a many-sided question, she is unhappy with abstract theorizing.

Her critics (of which she has none in the rebellion, but plenty in government) view her more as a subordinate than a true leader, and the reader will see that side too. She often lacks the strategic vision that a leader needs.

She finds philosophical concepts difficult, and she vacillates and has little confidence in any philosophical conclusions at which she arrives.

She has a deep interest in history, which will greatly help in the back story throughout the novel (for example; why everyone in the four "nation-states" are of Latin descent).

Her view is that her life and the rebellion are both steep hills she may never be able to climb. But by employing a lighter touch, using her finely tuned analytical reasoning, and ability to recognize lucky breaks, she "wins" all around.

No matter what our achievements might be, we think well of ourselves only in rare moments. We need people to bear witness against our inner judge, who keeps book on our shortcoming and transgressions. We need people to convince us that we are not as bad as we think we are.

We need not only a purpose in life to give meaning to our existence but also to give meaning to our suffering. we need as much something to suffer for as something to live for.

Campas is the most emotionally complex woman in the story but not the only woman. I'm stealing an idea from director Robert Altman here. In The Player, there are two female characters; one you are dying to see naked, and the other you couldn't care either way. A breathtaking beautiful "ice princess" artist, and a "plain jane" studio head's assistant. To maintain suspense throughout the story, Altman never let's you see what you really want to see. Which is, of course, the ice princess getting nailed to the wall. But you do get to see the assistant chattering away, topless in a jacuzzi. Similarly, Campas' relationships are never fulfilled, but the other girl is naked throughout (both literally and emotionally). The reader will expect Campas to find someone to replace her boyfriend, but she never does.

Sinclair - casting: a Spanish "five o'clock shadow" type between 28 and 32.

Even when Sinclair appears self-controlled and calm there is a seething intensity of emotional energy under the placid exterior. Those who are particularly perceptive will be aware of his harnessed aggression, the immense forcefulness, and magnetic intensity. In conventional social gatherings he is pleasant to be with, thoughtful in conversation, dignified, and reserved, yet affable and courteous.

In his everyday behavior he gives the appearance of being withdrawn from the center of activity, yet some who know him will recognize the watchfulness that is part of his character. Sinclair needs great self-discipline, because he is able to recognize the qualities in himself that make him different, and knows his utterly conventional nature can be used for great good, or great evil.

His tenacity and willpower are immense, his depth of character and passionate conviction overwhelming, yet he remains deeply sensitive and easily moved by his emotions.

He can harness his abundant energy constructively, tempering his self-confidence with shrewdness and his ambition with magnanimity toward others provided he likes them. He relates to fellow workers only as leaders and can be blunt to those they dislike to the point of cruelty.

Sinclair is rebellious, and politically extreme to the point where hatred of the Establishment could make him him an utterly unscrupulous terrorist.

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