Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Table Talk: Chatting About Character
Welcome back to Table Talk, a discussion between New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock. This week, the guys tackle issues of character and character creation.
Question: What do you do if you feel a character you're creating is too much like an existing character?
Bobby: This happens from time to time. It’s difficult to come up with a character that has aspects that haven’t been used with another character. If I feel my character is too much like another I simply make some changes so the character stands on his or her own. Sometimes similarities occur without my knowledge. This is especially true with character names.
For example, I was unaware the Harry Palmer was the name of a character from a series of novels and a movie when I wrote Evil Ways. Naturally, this information did not come to me until the book was out. Thankfully, I called him Harold instead of Harry (only did that twice in the novel).
Barry: I generally don’t worry too much about this. Even if all three of us were given the same biography for a character, I guarantee what we’d do with them would differ greatly. My Revenant character (from Claws of the Rook) is my homage to Lee Falk’s Phantom. At their starting point, not much is different – and that’s by design. But within a few pages, Revenant began to change, just because she’s being filtered through my awareness and not Lee Falk’s or any of those who came after him. Likewise, the notion of a bunch of near immortals playing a deadly game with one another sounds like Highlander but anybody who reads RABBIT HEART won’t be left thinking of Christopher Lambert for long.
There are very few new ideas under the sun. It’s what you do with the idea that sets it apart.
Bobby: That’s very true. I’ve said many times that if you give ten writers the exact same plot you’ll get ten very different stories.
Mike: If any of mine start to tack over toward an existing character, I run a bit of an inventory, finding things that remind me of the other character, and then purposefully change those things so as to change the character as much as possible. It's actually a lot of fun and often helps create a character with far more depth than what I'd done originally.
Question: When teaming up characters, how do you balance things fairly?
Bobby: This doesn’t happen to me often. When writing a team up I try to make sure that each character gets to shine because one of the two characters is going to be someone’s favorite and you don’t want to alienate the fans of character X because character Y get the best lines or more focus.
For cameos and guest spots it’s a little different. In Lance Star: Sky Ranger vol. 2 I had Domino Lady’s alter ego, Ellen Patrick make a small cameo appearance. In this instance she shows up, does her one scene and then is gone. If this had been a full-fledged team-up they would have both gotten equal time.
Barry: I’m much the same – if it’s a true “team-up,” then I make a concerted effort to showcase both characters equally and ensure that each has an opportunity to shine. But if I’m writing a Rook story and it features the Black Bat in a cameo, I have no qualms about having the Rook be the one who ultimately saves the day. It can be interesting, though, especially if you think that one or both of the characters might be unfamiliar to some readers – then you’ve got the added task of introducing their motivations and so forth.
Mike: I usually decide which character is the "viewpoint" character before I ever start writing and then slant the spotlight to that character. It's pretty tough for me to give a big cast equal billing, and I really applaud writers like Van Allen Plexico who can do that so seamlessly. If there are more than three characters, I usually view it as if I'm telling more than one story that spirals around the same circumstance, then jump back and forth between characters while telling the tale.
Bobby: I’ve done that with larger casts, most notably in my novels. Evil Ways, Deadly Games! and Fantastix: Code Red all had multiple stories going on that were connected, but could also be considered separate plots.
Bobby: I was recently asked about titles and if I come up with the title of a story before I start or if it comes later. How do you guys approach creating titles for both books and stories?
Barry: Sometimes I’ll come up with the title first and build a story around that… but quite frequently, I’ll start work on a story or novel and the title will reveal itself as I’m working (that’s what happened with Die Glocke). I also have a mental list of “cool titles” that are just waiting to be used and I’ll sometimes pick one of those. I want something that grabs the reader and makes them want to read the story – but it needs to be “honest,” so I’m not going to call it Brand of the Werewolf if there’s no actual werewolf in the story (I’m looking at you, Mr. Dent!).
Bobby: Same here. Sometimes a title is there at the beginning and sometimes it’s the last thing I come up with. I’ve also been known to change the title as well. My latest novel, Deadly Games! was simply titled Games! for the longest time. I added the "Deadly" part at the last minute. I’ve also had several people question why I put the exclamation point in the title. I thought it added a little something to the title about the urgency of the story. Plus, Deadly Games, in and of itself, has been used as a title many times before. I almost changed the title for that reason, but the title works for the story so I kept it.
Evil Ways, on the other hand, was meant to be only a working title until I came up with something better, but the name stuck.