Naughty Characters, KISS, and a late update

image courtesy of photosteve101 via Flikr

Okay, so I wasn’t able to put a post up on Friday, and I also missed my ROW80 update on Sunday. It’s been a busy–and sadly, rather unproductive, writing wise–week. Sometimes life just happens, and you’ve got to let it.

So today I thought I’d share why I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut this past week: my characters are misbehaving.

Three of my major characters from my Tapestry project–Metedre, Ohmel and Alkut–are starting to act out. They’re starting to vie for my attention, and in the process, they’re pushing another character–Tauri (the Emperor no less!) out of the picture.

Let me explain.

Alkut is my antagonist. In Tapestry, he’s a young page who has aspirations to the throne of the Yziman Empire–and wishes to push his people into war against the Toral. Metedre is the Empress, and I want her to be a kind, gentle person. She’s technically a “bad guy,” being of the Ozym, but I want people to sympathize with her. Ohmel is her son, the General of the Armies, and is endlessly devoted to her.

When I started writing Court of Sand, the first part in this saga, Alkut surprised me by sneaking out of the Empress’ chambers in the middle of the night–they’ve been having an affair. I thought this would be an interesting way to introduce him–it shows his duplicity, being the Emperor’s right hand man; it shows how he’s trying to manipulate the Empress into helping him get his way; and it makes him generally unlikable right off the bat. Win-win-win.

Later in the story, I was surprised again when Metedre unwittingly revealed a secret: she’s pregnant with Alkut’s child. Scandalous! The idea is that Alkut wants to set his own child on the throne, and that Metedre will have to go on the run to prevent this, and to escape the wrath of her husband.

But here’s the problem: all of this leaves the Emperor a rather impotent character, pardon the pun. With the focus on these three characters–and later, a few more who are crucial to the larger story–Tauri seems less and less important. I’ve even toyed with having Alkut kill him and take the throne, just to get him out of the story. He’s not really needed at all…except if I remove him, the stakes for the other characters change, or disappear altogether.

What’s a writer to do? I’ve puzzled over this all week. If I simply remove the Emperor, Alkut doesn’t have a reason to sneak around, Metedre has no reason to feel guilty and thus eventually gain forgiveness from the reader, and Ohmel has nobody to avenge when Alkut carries out his plan.

If I keep the Emperor, I have a useless character–or if I give him something important to do, he complicates the plot needlessly. Further, I don’t have a good reason to demonstrate that Metedre is a good person; shes having an affair with her husband’s advisor, and doesn’t have a really good reason for it.

Then I remembered some very good advice: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

When you’re writing a story, you always want to be thinking of the reader. Will they be able to follow the plot? If I complicate the plot, will it divide their attention enough that they’ll lose a thread here or there? Will they sympathize with the characters–or are there too many to sympathize with? In my case, I think I’m being needlessly complicated. The whole family dynamic subplot is important to the story, but only in terms of characterization, not plot.

What I needed to do was ask myself honestly: what story do I want to tell? Then, what’s the easiest way to tell it?

The plot of my story is a brewing spiritual war–the machinations of a family have nothing to do with that, so I shouldn’t concentrate on them. I want to keep the dynamic these characters have, to a point, but it shouldn’t be the focus. This has caused me to re-think most of what I’ve already written for Court of Sand, for which I’ve already completed the first draft. Much of that will likely be tossed now as I bring it to a better focus. But, such is the way with writing. In the end, I think the best way to go is to compromise.

The Emperor has recently died, leaving Metedre a widow and the Empire in chaos. Ohmel, heir to the throne, doesn’t want it–and is generally seen as unfit anyway. Alkut secretly longs for the throne, but knows he can’t take it because he lacks the lineage. Metedre wants to lead her people, but they have trouble accepting her as a capable leader (which is a nice counterpoint to the Toral, a matriarchal society). And all the while, the people are in the midst of a famine, starving for resources–and there are rumors that Tauri’s death was not natural. This is the atmosphere in which the book will open, and can be explained with a small amount of exposition that won’t get in the way of the larger story. I hope.

As for my ROW80 update…I can’t say I accomplished anything beyond growing some new grey hairs. Hopefully I’ll have something more tangible by Wednesday.


4 comments on “Naughty Characters, KISS, and a late update

  1. Will Overby says:

    You have to admit though, it’s pretty cool when your characters take on a life of their own and do unexpected things.

  2. James J Parsons says:

    Indeed–when that happens, you can tell the story is working!

  3. […] want to share, as part of my ROW80 update, what has helped me get back on track. As I mentioned Monday, I’ve been having trouble with some of the basic plotting of my project, in particular what […]

  4. […] of the narrative I’ve been doing. In trying to resolve the issues brought up in an earlier post, I’ve killed off one character, changed the motivations and characterizations of a second, […]

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