Welcome back again, folks. You may have noticed that I’ve been a little “dry” of late. I’ve felt it, that’s for sure, and finally pinpointed the problem: I’m working myself to death. In addition to my day job and marketing the book, I also sell thrift store finds on Amazon Marketplace, year-round. I probably don’t have to tell you how crazy things get at Christmas time. I start getting hit over the head, having to package and ship things every single day. Don’t get me wrong, the money is great and it’s going to help pay for a wedding, but I’m beginning to feel the effects of burning my candle at…I guess three ends? If you can imagine some odd three-ended candle…somehow.
Anyway! I want to revisit some of the things that I’ve talked about in the past. I started this blog as a way to talk about my writing process as I went through Corridors of the Dead, and I’ve mentioned wanting to do the same with Room 3. Unfortunately, Room 3 has been dormant for a few weeks as I pushed Corridors out the door and edited the erotica (which, by the way, is now available on Amazon).
Thankfully, the long-dormant engines are starting back up again, and they’re a bit rusty. I thought this might present a good chance to look at a problem that I’m experiencing with Room 3. It’s a problem with establishing a believable connection between characters.
I’m writing a somewhat important scene wherein the narrator, Kelli, is speaking to a little girl that appears in her visions. She has spoken to this little girl more than once, in sessions of visions spread across a little more than a month – this may be her 10th or 11th time seeing the girl. Previous to this scene, every encounter has been the same, no matter how much Kelli tries to change it. The little girl, Mimi, doesn’t remember that they have met before, or what has happened in the other visions (and, increasingly, Kelli’s dreams). Kelli always gets Mimi back up to speed with what’s happening, and what she can expect to happen next. At this point, the vision has taken a turn for the worse, and even Kelli doesn’t know what’s happening.
The issue I face, now, is how to create an authentic connection between the two characters. Having them both face something that threatens their “lives” is a good start, but there’s more to it than that, and it gets back to what I wanted to talk about: creating an emotional bond between characters.
I see several approaches to this issue. With one, you can take your time creating and nurturing an emotional bond between the characters. For example, Kelli and her fellow captive Carla build a friendship throughout the course of the book – a friendship that looms large in the climax of the book. We also see this with the third captive, Samartha, and Kelli. But sometimes you need to create a quicker bond. How to do that?
That was the crux of my issue, and I approached it from a few different angles. First, let’s discuss the problem itself. Kelli’s first instinct in the face of danger is to protect the girl, though they obviously can’t know each other very well or have a very deep connection. It just brings out something inside of her that is protective of children in dangerous situations – call it a motherly instinct. The real question here is why Mimi should trust Kelli. It’s her first time meeting the woman, and she has heard a lot of what seems to be nonsense from this woman as she talks about what is going to happen and events that she doesn’t remember. So her guard is already a bit up. In the usual course of the visions, Mimi sees that Kelli does indeed have some sort of knowledge, and loosens up. In this scenario, however, things are going off the rails, and something intensely dangerous is occurring.
Why would Mimi trust this woman who showed up and started spouting off what sounded like sheer insanity before danger started raining down on them. If she does, then why? It’s certainly not implied by the situation or who she is as a little girl. I don’t want to give away too much about Mimi. She’s an important character, but you don’t understand how central she is to the plot until much later. She became that way due to the solution of building the bridge between the two characters. She has a history of violence – or being a victim of it, anyway. She might be inclined to freeze up, but she’s survived by using her wits. This means that she’s active in the scene, to some extent. But she was also protected by an older girl during that experience with violence, so she’s used to a dynamic of being proactive while falling back on the protection of an older girl or woman.
So when Kelli grabs hold of her and pulls her close to protect her, she embraces it. The reader might not understand that upfront, but by the end of the novel, they’ll understand what she sees in Kelli in that moment and why she trusts her.
This brings me around to the importance of knowing the back-story of every character that will impact your tale. You need to understand what built their emotional foundation and brought them to the scene. Does the scene contain echoes of those experiences? If so, how can you use those echoes? If not, do you need to build them into the character? I mean, it’s not “normal” for a child to trust a stranger, just as it may not be normal in someone else’s work for a woman to trust a seemingly violent man. She would need a reason to trust if you want to set up some sort of abusive relationship. You’ll have to go into her past to show what set her up for that.
It may sound like a bit of a cheat to build a character’s back-story after the fact, to fit the scene, but that’s usually how character building actually goes – you can only account for so much. I’m just lucky that Mimi has been a blank slate to this point.
My overall message is: 1. Always be aware of what has happened to a character that could impact his or her view of a scene, and 2. Check every character’s view on a scene. If their perspective is different than what’s happened in a scene and you’ve forced them to act in the way the plot wills rather than what they will, a change is needed. Considering what they want might actually breathe more life into the scene. I’ll talk a little more about character perspective tomorrow, as I’ve learned some more nuance.