Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Magic Character

Last week I said that I was within a gnat’s whisker of finishing the new book and am only making a few changes as per my editor’s suggestions.  The plan was to have the MS to the publisher, ready to go, by the first of June. 

Oh, foolish woman.

Once I got into it, I realized that it isn’t quite that easy.  As I was pondering ways to expand one character’s part and add a bit more legerdemain* and misdirection, it came to me in one of those lightning strikes authors are so familiar with that if I add an extra character I’ll be able to kill all my birds with one stone.  In fact, this new character is tying up threads and making story connections that I hadn’t even considered before he came on the scene.  It’s quite amazing.

It’s interesting to see how his very presence affects the tale, just as the sudden insertion of a real person into a group changes its entire chemistry and dynamic. Adding a new character into a book that is to all intents and purposes finished gives the writer a jolt of energy that is unusual, for the normal feeling an author (at least this author) has right at the end of the process is a combination of weariness, total loss of perspective, and an inability to let it go even though it’s done.

I don’t expect that I’ll have to make huge additions or alterations in order to accommodate the new man, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to take some time--a week or two longer than I planned.  I foresee a couple of new scenes, at least one major rewrite of an existing scene, and a careful re-read to make sure he’s mentioned wherever he needs to be mentioned. You have to be careful not to overdo it if you’re going to try something like this. It’s amazing how little it takes to make big changes.

This is not the first time I’ve gone back and added a character after the manuscript is almost finished.  Whenever I have done such a thing, it has been as though the character was on the sidelines the whole time, like a relief quarterback, just waiting to jump into the game and throw the winning pass.  For my most recent book, The Sky Took Him, it was Ike the cat.  I don’t know he did it, but that cat tied the action together with a big red bow. He was a magic character.  I can only hope that my new guy has the same juju.


*a couple of weeks ago, my brother’s wife posted this on Facebook: “My husband confuses me with big words.” When I read that, I got a sudden blast from the past.  Memories of me and my sibs spending hours trying to outdo each other with the most pretentious, multi-syllabic coinages, malapropisms, and cliches we could come up with.  We were like a bunch of vocabulary heroin addicts.  Now here it is thirty years later and we’re all ruined.  Ruined.


DJ Kirkby said...

I think you're very brave to go back and add a new character. Seems such hard work but I guess writing is anyway!Like the bit about you and your sibs trying to outdo each other with big words :)

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