Mark Terry

Monday, April 26, 2010

Auditioning Characters

April 26, 2010
I've started working on the fifth Derek Stillwater novel, which takes place in Russia. Because I was looking for a character with a Russian name and I often need Derek to work with someone official, I created a character working in the US Embassy in Moscow whose name is Erica Kirov. For those of you who don't know, my writer friend Erica Orloff, whom I typically refer to as The Divine Ms. O, writes a series of children's books under the name Erica Kirov.

Although I find this sort of thing amusing--in the fourth book, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, scheduled for late June 2011, I have named a number of Homeland Security staff after writers I know. But those are more along the lines of cameo appearances. Erica Kirov in the fifth book was going to be a major character and yes, she probably was going to have some characteristics of the Erica I know.

Now, I've mentioned before that I don't outline. So although I have some broad notions of where the book was going to go and do, I don't really know many of the details. But I was actually finding the idea of basing this character loosely on my friend to be rather impeding. Then something happened that I thought was sort of interesting, and it's the sort of thing that happens to seat-of-pants writers all the time.

I introduced several new characters. One of them is a Russian FSB agent (the FSB was the predecessor to the KGB) named Konstantin Nikitinov. Derek and Konstantin do not exactly hit it off. But as I was working on the manuscript, I realized just how much what these two terrorism experts want to achieve dovetails. But now Derek is on Konstantin's territory and there's a lot of friction. And I realized that it's entirely possible that these two men are going to be forced by circumstances to work with each other and to have to trust each other.

I haven't figured out what to do with Erica Kirov yet. I think she will be a major character, but not as major as she was before Konstantin stepped onstage. She and Derek were just getting along too well, and although that's good in real life, it doesn't necessarily make for the best fiction.

But the point is, I refer to this process as "auditioning characters." When I first started working on this novel I had some ideas where I was going and who some of the characters were. But sometimes you introduce a character or two or three and they start to take over. It's not something I quite plan. It's something magical. For instance, in The Fallen, I hadn't planned on writing about the character of El Tiburon (Pablo Juarez). And even if I had, I didn't realize how major and pivotal a character he would turn out to be (and thank the muses for it, because he improved the hell out of the book). He was there at the beginning and it was only as I got to know him and he started to do his job that I realized how important and potent a character he was.

How about you? Do you audition characters?


Blogger ssas said...

I think I do. I often find I have flatter characters come onstage and then later realize they'd be better combined.

I'm thinking of completely revamping an old novel, old characters, new story. Some of the characters aren't going to make the cut.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sometimes characters take on a life of their own. I think that's mostly a good thing.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

See, I've always been a little superstitious about names after real people, LOL. I don't know. When authors have contests with the prize being my name in a book, I run away. It's just too... weird for me, LOL.

Characters percolate in my brain, and then, if they show up on paper, that generally means they passed, LOL. :-)

10:59 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I actually agree with you. I don't mind it with a minor character or someone who's doing a "walk-on." But I think I would have more freedom psychologically to do more with the Erica Kirov character if I'd named her after someone else. Which I might very well do, to free up my brain.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

OMG, this totally cracks me up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

And yes, I audition characters. Sergei was supposed to be just this one-time thing, but now in Magickeepers, he just "works" for comic relief.


10:21 AM  
Anonymous Maddy said...

I'm just a beginner but I have found that after I've introduced a new character without much thought, somehow they morph over time and become far more human and important.

5:58 PM  
Blogger The Daring Novelist said...

I often feel like I'm putting my characters through an "acting exercise" type process - often pairing them up with characters and situations that have nothing to do with the book at hand so I can get a better feel for who they are and what they will do.

11:25 AM  

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