Friday, December 28, 2018

The Default Setting

Sorry I'm late today. I'm getting a slow start because I was up late last night and slept in. Because I'm on intersession schedule and working at home rather than the office, I haven't been setting my alarm. Left to my own devices -- i.e., doing what I do naturally -- I become nocturnal and have to watch the clock to remind myself to go to bed. Last night, my cat went to bed before I did.

But I was already thinking about my 1939 characters and their default settings -- how they go about their lives unless compelled or making an effort to do something else. I've been thinking about that because I've been considering how I might weave that into the plot. I have multiple characters, and I want to give them lives. Real people go about their lives negotiating with the world and making adjustments -- or not. They have to cope with their natural inclinations. 

So I've been pondering each character's default setting. This is more of a challenge than I usually have with a book. I'm accustomed to writing series protagonists. I know by now how they navigate life. I even know a lot about my recurring secondary characters. I spent a lot of time learning about Jo Radcliffe, my most recent protagonist, a former Army nurse in the late 1940s who debuted in an EQMM short story.  But now I'm writing a standalone. I have a cast of characters in a much larger book than I've tried before -- not so much in word count but in the size of the canvas and the problems they encounter. It's 1939. First, they were dealing with the Great Depression. Now, they are living in a world on the brink of war.

I have to keep reminding myself that I have knowledge that they don't have yet. In April 1939, they don't know what is going to happen in September. They don't know that Pearl Harbor will be bombed and the United States will no longer have the option of staying out of the war. I need to get into their mindsets as people who are even less able to see into the future than we are in 2018. How are they going about their lives in an era of uncertainty, but one in which they are not dealing with a 24-hour news cycle and social media? What are their default settings? What makes each of them make adjustments -- work schedules, promises to friends, an evening out or church on Sunday?

I need to ponder how each deals with day-to-day life before getting themselves into the difficulties of the plot. I keep coming back to their bios and asking myself questions about them. That is my default setting as a writer. Even when I want to plunge into my thriller and see where I end up, my tendency is to keep circling back to read my characters' bios.

Last night, when I was up browsing on my computer, I had my characters on my mind. This morning when I woke up, I was wondering who among them would understand why I didn't go to bed last night and woke up late and sluggish. My Pullman porter is a night worker by necessity. But I think he would be tucked into bed before midnight if he had a choice. How does lack of sleep affect what he does? My villain on the other hand, likes to roam about outside at night. He lives in Georgia, on the plantation that once belonged to his grandfather. He is a businessman now, travels back and forth to Washington and New York City. But wherever he is, his default setting is to be up and restless. Does he leave his hotel room and go for a walk? If he does, what happens?

By the way, I have been thinking about who would play these characters in a movie. I, too, am having a problem with the ages of the actors who come to mind. So, I'm still pondering.

Happy New Year!  See you in 2019.

No comments: