If you read my other blog (MacOnFireball.blogspot.com), you may have seen my facebook post a couple weeks ago that I couldn’t post that week’s episode because Bugalu was being a jerk, and I had to do a major rewrite. As I did the rewrite, Mac was hostile and everybody started explaining everything! (As you know, Bob, Earth’s moon orbits around Earth, and it takes about 28 days to do it.) The only thing worse than an info dump is a completely unnecessary info dump!
I used to say that I start with a character, and they tell me their story. Well, kinda sorta. Sometimes, I start with a scene (a battleground after the battle) or an experience (being tossed off a cliff like a piece of garbage). Then I start wondering, “Who would be in this situation? How did they get here? Or, if it’s more interesting, what will they do now?”
No matter how tight-lipped a character starts out, by the time I’ve written 3-4 thousand words about him/her, they have layers of likes, dislikes, memories, experiences, hang-ups and maybe even dreams. They are no longer 2-dimensional (an apprentice wizard), they are developing some depth (Her teacher has gotten frail during her apprenticeship, so she feels she should stay and take care of him).
I get to know my characters pretty well. You’d think that would be a good thing, but... it has its drawbacks.
When they start telling me their story, they might not give all the details. We don’t know each other very well, and they don’t think their life is that interesting, usually, so I can’t blame them for editing what they give me. And I don’t usually question much while I’m getting the rough draft down. But when I start going through the next draft, I start asking for details.
“Smitty, I’m not sure I understand. Mac just came on board, and you’re already out of sorts with her. Did she do something to irritate you?”
“She stared at me from the moment her transpod opened!”
That hadn’t been mentioned before. Obviously, that scene needed expanding so the reader would know he was not - normally - an old sour-puss.
“He’s passed over plenty of hopeful subordinates who would say he is.”
“He decided they wouldn’t fit his team. Part of being an officer. Hold your peace, Drake. She’s talking to Smitty.”
Okay. Maybe I should say here that I’ve been working on Mac’s adventures on the Fireball for about 40 years. That’s a long time to have the same people living in your head. Yes, we’ve taken breaks - some of them pretty long - and they’ve had to share my head with plenty of other characters during those decades. But I think it’s safe to say that I REALLY know Mac, and the rest of the crew.
How well do you know your siblings or spouse? If you’re having a bad day, do they know it? Or do you still hide that away?
When I confronted Bugalu about being a jerk in the soon-to-be-posted episode, he responded with, “I was trying to make Mac get her temper under control. It’s not like I haven’t talked to her about that before.”
Sure enough, Mac was verging on a rampage, until Bugalu had shocked her by being a jerk. I put on my ‘director’/counselor hats, and we worked to get their moods more... settled in the story.
Oh, and the un-necessary explaining? It happens from time to time, mostly in a rough draft. I just pull my editor hat on tight and remove the unnecessary bits. In this case, 2 pages of ‘splainin’ became 6 lines. 5.5 lines. Somewhere in there.
I don’t want my characters to edit their story. That’s part of my job.
Fighting between characters? Maybe, because siblings fight. Spouses fight. After 40 years, you have to expect an occasional disagreement. But if it becomes part of the story, it needs a reason. Something other than, “I was having a bad day.”