How Characters Can Surprise You
First off, I'd like to thank Qwill for having me on today to help support the release of my dark, urban fantasy (or as I like to call it: supernatural crime fiction), The Vengeful Dead, second in my Deadworld series. It's the follow-up to Deadworld, chronicling the adventures (or misadventures as the case may be), of one troubled FBI agent, Jackie Rutledge, as she attempts to figure out herself as well as how to deal with things not quite living anymore. As one might expect, when dealing with a messed up character involved in a world where crazy things are afoot, things do not always go as planned. In short, they surprise you.
Now, I'll readily admit that I'm a plotter. I lay out my stories from start to finish before I put down word one. It's just the way my brain works, otherwise I find myself meandering all over the place, not sure where things are going, and inevitably end up stuck somewhere along the way. I also lay out my character arcs for the story, in rather broad brushstrokes, giving me goals of where my main characters are heading emotionally and a few key points along the way. While it would certainly be easier if this process cemented things in stone and gave me a rock solid path to follow from start to finish, it never works out that way. Mostly, this occurs because either I realize that something in the plot doesn't work as planned, i.e. it makes no logical sense as a progression from what happened before, or as is often the case, the characters, it turns out, wouldn't do what I'd planned.
I suspect much of this has to do with what one wants characters to do versus what they really would do in a given situation. I've had numerous occasions where I've reached a particular plot point, an element I needed for something else to happen next, and the character, usually Jackie, has another, preferable option. When you have a character with a fragile state of mind that is being battered about on a fairly continual basis, they tend to become unreliable. They don't always want to do what makes sense at the time. The result: a change in the story, an unexpected direction, and perhaps a new facet of character one had not seen before.
This is one of the more enjoyable aspects of writing. As much as one might plan out and think ahead, stories still surprise. You can't force story elements on to your character's profile. As much as you may want them to do something, a story will fall flat and feel forced if you wedge your characters into convenient actions and emotional reactions. You may want anger in response to a situation and find fear instead or perhaps plan for lust only to find hesitancy or rejection. Much like life, things do not always go as planned, and as a writer, you have to play along and be true to life.
In the case of my series, things can become difficult with a character like Jackie. She is not happy with her life or herself and definitely does not have a fondness for the supernatural elements that have invaded her life. She was a woman of routine, who focused singularly on the one thing she was good at (catching bad guys) at the expense of everything else, because she could not stand to face them. In a series with a major thread involving her growth, which must in some ways, continue to move forward, she fights me every step of the way. I give her opportunities to move forward, to shed a little light upon her darkness, and she will continue to hide in the dark. Things must happen in a natural way, otherwise I feel the story is fake, and healing from emotional difficulties is not easy in real life and should not be in fiction either. One magical little night with the hero does not fix all ills (I over generalize here). Some readers have complained that Jackie continues to be frustrating in her lack of growth. The time frame however, of the first two books is about six weeks. People don't "fix" things in such a short matter of time, and Jackie will be no exception. I don't want it to be easy for her, but I do want her to succeed in the end. She just continues to surprise me and conspire to thwart my efforts to make her healthy once again. I'm not worried though, she'll get there eventually, whether she likes it or not.
And for taking the time to read and comment here on the topic, one random commenter will receive a signed copy of The Vengeful Dead and coverflat for book three, The Lingering Dead, due out in April.
About the Deadworld Series
The Vengeful DeadDeadworld 2
Kensington, October 4, 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
She's the FBI's go-to expert on Chicago's most brutal supernatural crimes. But a bloodthirsty, revenge-crazed killer is using her deepest fears as a terrifying weapon . . .
Jackie Rutledge just can't put her past to rest. Her Bureau partner is dead, but not gone. And her sanity is becoming as fragile as her career. Worst of all, a wrenching journey into Deadworld has given her unwanted new abilities-and exhuming memories she hoped to keep buried . . .
Now a merciless force capable of possessing humans is on a killing spree, destroying the guilty and innocent alike. It isn't long before Jackie is a prime suspect, struggling to stay two steps ahead of her savvy new partner, and her undead P.I. and paramour, Nick. But to clear her name, she'll have to take on her greatest challenge yet: confronting an inner darkness as inescapable as the one she hunts-and capable of annihilating more than her soul . . .
Kensington, April 5, 2012
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
She’s as tough as anything haunting Chicago’s streets. But to deal with an inhuman power that won’t stay buried, this FBI agent needs help that comes at an immortal price…
Jackie Rutledge has seen her share of supernatural killers. But her latest murder case is what recurring nightmares are made of. Brutally exsanguinated human victims, vanishing-into-the-ether evidence, and a city on the edge of panic mean that she and her psychic partner, Laurel, are going to need more than just backup …
So Jackie is fine with any help rugged P.I. Nick Anderson can give—even if that includes the impish ghost and sexy vampire who make up his team. But Nick is hiding secrets of his own. And Jackie’s investigation has plunged them both into a vengeful game reaching back centuries—and up against a malevolent force hungry for more than just victory…
Coming in 2012
The Lingering DeadDeadworld 3
Kensington, April 3, 2012
Mass Market Paperback
She cracks the FBI’s toughest supernatural crimes, from Chicago’s windy streets and beyond, into the next world. But a malevolent force now has her reputation—and her team—in its sights…
Jackie Rutledge has faced down everything from the darkest sorcery to uber-vengeful revenants. But heading up the Bureau’s special paranormal unit is presenting unexpected challenges. Handling otherworldly egos and politics has never come easy to this loner agent. And opening up to her sexy vampire lover, Nick, is as unnerving as her unwanted new ability to slip between the realms of the living and the dead...
Now an insidious power holding helpless ghosts in thrall is using any means necessary to discredit Jackie and split her team apart for good. The only chance she has means baiting the terrifying Deadworld being stalking her dreams, hunting her every step—and growing ever more hungry for her ultimate sacrifice…
J.N. Duncan is a father of four and an aspiring teacher, living in Ohio. He's got as many pets as kids, and a partner who is published as well (romance author Tracy Madison). He's a big fantasy gamer, sf/f geek, lover of astronomy, and generally scores pretty high on the nerd scale, if one were to measure such things.
What: One commenter will win a a signed copy of The Vengeful Dead and a coverflat for book three, The Lingering Dead, due out in April 2012. US and Canadian Mailing Addresses Only.
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