Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The hidden universe of characters

Because WILD THING is being reissued in mass market paperback in January (I'd better check on that, actually; Berkley sometimes switches around release dates on reissues and doesn't tell us) and I get a chance to read Bastien's story again and see if there were any "oopsies!" in the printed copy that I wish I could have changed then. Actually there was one oops in that I mentioned the Atlantean ability to change eye color like a mood ring but didn't actually mention it - ok, Bastien's eyes were two different colors in the space of a couple of different pages because of what he was dealing with and there it was. Nobody ever wrote to me about it, like "hey, loser, your MAIN CHARACTER changed EYE colors!! Don't you have an EDITOR?" or something like that, but I would have been prepared, because I knew why he changed eye colors but I just didn't bother to tell my READERS.

This is the tip of the iceberg (heh, icebergs, oceans, Atlantis, I crack myself up in a very first grade sort of way today, maybe because I'm on a caffeine overload since Starbucks brought my beloved pumpkin spice lattes back out, so forgive me the stream of consciousness) when it comes to the actual universe a character lives in and the author knows ALL ABOUT but doesn't have room to tell you in the book.

Why not? You cry! We want, no, need, no, DESERVE to know this stuff!! Well, the answer is simple. It would be a backstory dump of leviathan proportions and it would bore you silly and it would make for 7000 page books.

So there are going to be tons of things an author knows about the universe of her characters that will be revealed gradually or maybe never revealed at all but will be part of the rich tapestry of life experiences that have grown that character into the self he or she is in the book.

The problem is in the balance - and this is often true of life, too, which sadly took me about 30 years to figure out, but that's a very long story and one that probably needs a prologue from a practicing psychiatrist or at least a witch doctor -- and when the balance is good, or even great, you're going to care enough about the characters to give a serious damn what they do in life and where they go and if they end up happy or get their comeuppance or whatever you feel they deserved. Because you've INVESTED in those people, and you DESERVE TO KNOW.

I didn't get this at first. I got it as a reader; I really did. There were plenty of characters that I'd wonder what they were up to now. But when I wrote my very first novel and people would come up to me at booksignings and ask "What are Jules and Sam doing these days?" I would be taken aback and think thoughts like "if only I had a red hotline to Imaginary Character Land I could tell you . . ."

Because I'd created them and then I'd been done with them, I'd forgotten that they lived on in the minds of those who'd invested in their lives during the course of reading my book. This, let me tell you, let me shout from the rooftops, THIS is an amazing gift that readers give authors. For a reader to invest that kind of emotional energy in a character I'd created -- it's humbling and validating and totally blows me away with joy and gratitude. But the first few times I didn't expect it. Authors were the *other* people.

Oh, yeah. Now, me, too.

So sometimes I can tell you a lot about characters that you'll never read in the books, if you're really interested. Sometimes I DO know the answer to the question you're dying to know, but I can't or won't share because it will ruin an upcoming plot twist if I give away the surprise. For example, when I discovered the big secret about the Atlantean priesthood that you're going to find out in ATLANTIS UNLEASHED, I nearly fell out of my chair. (Alaric is freaking out, let me tell you, and he's not much of a freak-outer.)

So, anyway, back to the page proofs, then on to the prep for copyedits for Unleashed. My short story for THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE is done and edited (had to change "drawers" to "trousers" which tickled me). Then back to new pages on Alexios's book. He's quieter than some of the others in the Seven, so it's interesting to peel back the layers in his character universe until I can see him for who he really is instead of the scarred face he presents to the world.

Oh, and I PROMISE to put the first couple of chapters of Justice's book up on the website by next week. Sheesh. It's October, already. Hmmm, I think I'm going to need more of that pumpkin spice latte . . .

1 comment:

Piercedfreak said...

Yeah for Pumpkin Spice!!!!