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Person Problems

What do you do when a new character starts talking to you?

You transcribe, of course, and thank the Muse politely and hope this state of affairs will continue.

However, when the character starts by telling you her name – and it happens to be the name of the Greek Muse of Comedy – don’t be too surprised if she finds it screamingly funny to get you five chapters deep into a story told in first person and then to point out that she didn’t actually witness certain crucial scenes and what are you going to do about that?

The clatter, tinkle, crash you hear in the distance is the sound of rules breaking.

What did I do about it?

I let Thalia say “This next bit is out of order, because I didn’t actually hear about it until Ben and Ingrid got back and told me,” and then I shifted briskly into third-person narration from Ben’s point of view.

I inserted short third-person segments, carefully marked off by separators, where I needed the reader to know what the CIA case officer or the Babylonian turtle mage is thinking or what the murderous math student is doing.

And in other places I took advantage of the fact that Thalia didn’t actually witness the action. The part where an enterprising robotics student connects the turtle’s severed (but still talkative) head to a robot snake body? I’m not sure how you’d go about that even if you could. It’s much easier to have Meadow Melendez stagger out of her lab saying, “I do not believe what I just did. It couldn’t have worked.”

There were a few more bits of fancy dancing required to get to the end of A Pocketful of Stars, but I think they all worked; at least, the beta readers didn’t complain that any of those brief shifts out of first person bothered them. So while I may have torn up the official rules of narration and scattered their scraps to the winds, at least I haven’t broken the major rule that Thou Shalt Not Throw Thy Reader Out Of The Story.

I think.

I hope.

I really, really hope it all worked, because Thalia has led me into a multi-book series; I’ve already written books 2-4 and am currently mulling over an interesting new direction for book 5. And they’re all first-person.

Mostly.

 

26 Comments
  1. I recently had a new bloke introduce himself thus:

    “I am the great and powerful Oz,” he said, with the air of reciting a formula. “You can call me Oz. I’ll call you dirt, dust, and grime.”

    This bit of weird proved character-defining relevant.

    May 3, 2018
  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Well, at least the character didn’t call herself Melpomene. 😉

    May 3, 2018
  3. Draven #

    but you can’t change POV!!!!!!11!!11!!one!!!!

    May 3, 2018
    • TRX #

      Yeah. Alfred Bester proved that with “Fondly Fahrenheit…”

      May 3, 2018
  4. Good lord, that sounds excitingly, terrifyingly wonderful. Mind you it could be worse. She could have abandoned you half way through book three and tell you to figure it out from there.

    May 3, 2018
  5. Answer to first question: run. Or cry.

    May 3, 2018
  6. Dorothy Grant #

    …I didn’t even notice that when I read it! So it worked well, because it didn’t stand out as breaking the flow of the story. 🙂

    May 3, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      ditto. I noticed the text, but I didn’t notice the person change. Almost done then I’ll review it – it’s great!

      May 3, 2018
      • Margaret Ball #

        Thanks, guys! It’s reassuring to know the person changes didn’t jump out at you.

        May 3, 2018
  7. Am I weird, or just innately commanding? My characters don’t talk to me – they just do what I want them to do. Although – my daughter and I plot them out very carefully, so they don’t generally go blinding off in odd directions anyway.

    May 3, 2018
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      My characters don’t talk to me; they’re too passive-aggressive. But they WILL fold their arms and sit there glaring at me if I don’t write them doing what they want to do. I wrote a fanfic many years ago where the love interest was slated to reveal his Deep Dark Secret in chapter 14 and categorically refused until 23; I could not write a damn plot-relevant thing until I gave up on the original outline, despite knowing perfectly well what happened next. It went all sludgy and dead on me.

      May 3, 2018
      • “But they WILL fold their arms and sit there glaring at me if I don’t write them doing what they want to do.”

        Yeah, this is the thing they do. You want them to go do something, you write it and it comes out stupid. The more you go there, the stupider it gets. I can practically hear them: “That’s not going to work. I would never say that.”

        May 4, 2018
    • I’m having trouble with a book that I’m working on because I’ve discovered the protagonist is shy. I don’t know much about being shy, and quite honestly, he’s not talking to me.

      May 7, 2018
      • Perhaps write it so that the character shrinks from personal stuff? (“Eeew, don’t wanna go there… can we leave now??)

        May 7, 2018
        • It’s not the externals that I’m having problems with; it’s describing what’s going on in his head when he won’t tell me.

          May 7, 2018
  8. 23skidoo

    May 3, 2018
  9. Yep. I had a bit character, he needed to speak about three sentences, didn’t even rate having a name . . . He not only flubbed his lines, he came back for a 9 book series (so far!) of his own.

    May 3, 2018
    • mrsizer #

      Kitchen?

      May 4, 2018
    • I had a character who was created in an aside. He shouldered his way into the book and is shaping the sequel (with major implications for a third novel, what. I have no time for this.)

      May 7, 2018
  10. Mary #

    I say, pen in hand, “Outline your story for me.

    “No, I mean outline your story for me.

    “No, I’m not going to trust you to not peter out halfway.”

    May 4, 2018
    • Mary #

      Recently had a character tell me that he’s the love interest.

      no, it’s not a triangle. I’m to shove the other guy in some other girl’s direction.

      May 4, 2018
      • Mary #

        Fortunately, the other guy’s pointed out that I’ve thought he was two characters, and if I had realized he was only one, I’d have known he was destined for another woman already.

        May 5, 2018
  11. Once upon a time there was a robot named Miss Smith who flatly refused to remain a plain old bucket of bolts. Now here we are, five books later, and she’s still telling me what to do.

    May 4, 2018
  12. I’m having the problem of writing a highly competent character in an area that I’m not competent (bloody mayhem, the military version). Fortunately, I have LawDog, my darling husband, and JL Curtis on tap, and they’re rather experienced.

    So now that we’ve gotten to the bullets flying and the bodies falling part of the plot, I have to keep stopping and checking with the guys. “Okay, what would you do if?” I don’t transcribe everything – there is a fair amount of adaptation to the plot – but it’s still a little frustrating to get to each point and say realize I’m not good enough at bloody mayhem to know what he’ll do next, and my hero is giving me the “you know what you need to do, so go do it” glare.

    I’m going to owe the guys so much bacon, ammo, coffee, and blurbs when I’m done with this book. G-d help me if the character decides he wants a sequel!

    May 4, 2018
    • Read Herr Rommel’s book Infantry Tactics. Also read Sun Tsu’s Art of war, on the faint chance you haven’t already. Also worth a look, Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. I’ve never read Von Clausewitz, but lots of guys say he’s The Man.

      If you have a strong stomach (and I mean really strong) there are medical sites dealing with gunshot wounds, that show the damage to the body of modern weapons. Seeing a picture isn’t the same as seeing the real thing, but close enough to write about it.

      My takeaway from talking to a few people who have actually been shot, the thing they remember most is the running away part and the ambulance ride.

      May 4, 2018

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