Monday, February 20, 2017

Character Harassment

Fictional characters often harass their writers in unpredictable ways. Usually, this is a good thing. When a character starts to write their own dialogue, it usually means the writer (or at least his or her subconscious) has researched and processed the character to the point where that character starts asserting their own point of view—sometimes to the point where plot lines must change—perhaps creating more work for the writer than they had prepared for.
I first really discovered character harassment with Neesha, a young female protagonist in my book, The Deep Time Diaries. Her voice often rang in my ears, telling me what to say. Of course, Neesha was loosely patterned after my wife, so I had Neesha’s original template close at hand to remind me of her ‘voice.’
In my most recent book, I’m not quite sure who Twill is patterned after—perhaps a younger version of myself—but Twill has been harassing me of late, getting his ancient mentor, Rudy and Rudy’s protector, the AI Mnemosyne, into more trouble than I thought I had intended. In the following example from a recent chapter, Twill warns Morticue not to mess with Spider Woman (Mnemosyne), although, at the time, he is chained to a bench and apparently just a primitive wild groupie (human) not in a position to make demands:

“I see no danger to ‘Jadderbadian kind’ in you, scruffy ape.” Morticue gestured with one arm, reminding Rudy of a maestro in front of his musicians. “You squat in primitive huts near what appears to be some ancient construct of some kind. Even as we speak, Captain Edelphine leads a military convoy to the base of the artifact you surround. Can I assume this mysterious Spider Woman you venerate is a local deity?”
“Do not underestimate Spider Woman.” Twill pointed a finger at Morticue. “She has guarded my homeland for generations and has now sent Great Uncle Rudy to guide me.”
“Let’s not do a lot of ad-libbing, kid,” Rudy whispered.
“Great Uncle Rudy?” Morticue’s mouth orifice fluttered, exposing ivory barbs beneath, and his chromatophores pulsed in a tepid yellow. “Where is this Great Uncle Rudy?”
Twill forged on, evading the question. “Spider Woman is wise.” Twill paused with a shaman’s good sense of theatre. “Spider Woman knows about the star gate through which you entered our world…and she knows it is not of your making.”
Morticue paused in mid gesture. His mouth orifice froze momentarily before he spoke again. “The star gate. Your Spider Woman knows about the star gate?” The alien turned toward his computer screens and activated them with a voice command. “Link me with Edelphine.”
Twill continued. “Spider Woman has many powers. She weaves many complex webs. Do not underestimate her.”
“And don’t over play our hand, my boy,” said Rudy
“What do you want, scholar?” Edelphine’s voice burst from a speaker on a nearby console. “I’m rather busy.”
“Proceed with some caution, Commander.” Morticue twisted on his bench to face the speaker. “This creature knows more things than he should. He knows something about the star gate and how we use it.”
“I knew it!” Edelphine spluttered. “This artifact is a threat. In the name of Great Mother, I will reduce it to dust.”
“I wouldn’t,” yelled Twill, rattling his leg chain in the process.
“Is that the monkey?” Edelphine’s voice entered a higher register. “How dare he address me directly?”
“Spider Woman says, ‘It is always best to speak clearly to fools before they step in their own poo.’”
Rudy groaned. “No ad-libbing, kid. No ad-libbing!” Rudy glanced at the screen. Edelphine’s mouth orifice seemed frozen in an ‘O’ configuration, fluttering at the edges like an aspen leaf.

So, Twill seems determined to up the tension and get me into situations my other characters need to resolve. In the end, character harassment has the potential to make a book more real, more complex (and harder to complete) than it might otherwise be—but if the writer is surprised by what’s going on, the reader should be too. The reader will keep reading. The writer will keep writing. They both want desperately to find out how this implausible fiction will end.

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