Monday, October 21, 2013

Which Character is Supposed to Be the One Who Changes?

"Supposed to" is a terrible phrase in the world of creativity. I find myself wrestling with it all the time when I write. We're "supposed to" show, not tell. We're "supposed to" stay away from adverbs. We're "supposed to" make sure something significant wrenches "life as usual" from beneath the protagonist at the end of act I. Who knew so few words could exert so much pressure on a writer?

Currently, I'm working on the sequel to Curse Bearer, a book I'm tentatively calling A Voice Within. Whether that name will stick through the completion of the book, who knows...since I've taken what the book was in rough draft form and demolished it, and am now fairly certain I will only retain the vaguest plot markers from the original. But I'm wrestling currently with the big "supposed to" of character development:

The main character is "supposed to" undergo a paradigm-shifting change of attitude that will take them from a destructive or unworkable set of behaviors and move them toward a more victorious mindset. At least that's how it goes if you're writing a happy ending, which I am.

The trouble is, the protagonist of Curse Bearer, Danae, underwent her epiphany at the climax of book I of this series. I have been wrestling with getting book II off the ground because it's a continuation story, and what remains for Danae to do is grow in the knowledge that she's newly embraced. I don't have another "knot" (to use Jeff Gerke's terminology) to work out for her in this book.  I could manufacture one, but right now, I view her more as a character who knows what she needs to do--she just has to get trained up enough to do it.

A discussion of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader that we had at the West Branch Christian Writer's Conference that brought me to a bit of a crisis point with A Voice Within's story structure. The more we talked about Darth Vader in terms of character "knot" and epiphany, the more I started thinking, "You know, Luke's the protagonist of Star Wars, but he doesn't really change. Sure, he learns things and goes from farm boy to Jedi--but his general desire for truth and his inescapable sense that there's something more out there in the universe he's meant for than operating vaporators, aren't reversed in the original trilogy. They're only built upon to make him an amplified and more capable version of what he was already.

However, Darth Vader, he's the guy you talk about when it comes to discussing someone who has an epiphany that forces a decision between sticking with his usual M.O. and something completely different. He's the one who throws off his loyalty to the Empire (and subsequently the Dark Side) and becomes the agent of change. Arguably, it's Darth Vader who won the day for the rebel alliance, because in choosing to destroy Palpatine, he threw the Imperial forces into disarray, and without that, the rebels would have surely lost.

But anyway, what's all this Star Wars geekery have to do with my writing? It makes me think that here, in book II of Risen Age, that I have to allow an ally to be the character who has the more dynamic inner journey. It's Culduin who stands in the position to have a revelation and change his approach. But the question is, am I deft enough as a writer to allow him to be the changing character? It would be easy to just let Culduin run off with the story, since awesome elves have a way of doing that. But if I allow Culduin to be the character's whose inner journey we explore in this book, can I do that and still finish what I've begun in terms of Curse Bearer's plot? I don't want his character development to cloud my plot vision in terms of Danae's desire to get back to her father in time.

I take comfort in knowing this has been done before. Not only the Darth Vader transformation comes to mind, but the story of Samwise Gamgee. He serves in the role of ally in The Lord of the Rings, but he's the one who changes, not Frodo. So if I can pull off the transformation of a secondary protagonist, at least I'll be in good company.

What about you? Can you think of other examples of great stories where the main character isn't necessarily the one who changes the most? If I can make a study of stories that do this well, I'll be much better armed to try it myself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Genre Mashups and a Revelation

OK, so maybe "revelation" is a bit of a strong word. More of a "huh" would probably be accurate.

Anyway, I was looking at the Publisher's Weekly blog post that Marcher Lord Press shared, where PW gave a little press to Kerry Nietz's new release Amish Vampires in Space. Now, I'm glad for any press Kerry is getting--it can only help his visibility, and even if people are mocking (which PW wasn't) it generates traffic. Good for him!

The PW article was talking about genre mashups and how authors seem to be unabashedly having fun with them. I can support writing for fun. It's generally what I do. The other three books in the PW article included romance as one of their genres pulled into the mix, and in the midst of my moment of mirth over the ridiculousness of making a character a werecuttlefish (like werewolf, but yes, shapeshifting to a fish) I had that "huh" moment.

The three covers in the article (yeah, you should probably go look at it if you haven't yet) that weren't Kerry's book featured bare-chested men, as is to be expected with romance. But on two of the covers, the models were positioned in such a way as to cut their faces out of the composition. Women whine constantly about being objectified in video and still photography. Um--hello? Not just naked men, but faceless naked men splashed on the covers of the only genre I think a person can write in and make a steady living--how is this not objectifying men? At least women in photography tend to retain their "come hither" smolder, where as, they're just a set of highly-waxed-and-greased pecs and abs. More and more, it seems the reduction of people to body parts goes both ways.

Thank goodness Kerry's girl in the bonnet gets to be compelling for reasons other than the shedding of clothing. Campy is one thing. Trashy is another. And for the record, I understand Kerry's book is neither. I look forward to a chance to check it out.