Tag Archives: character development

Staking out the Weekend

I was recently given the most amazing gift. I’ve got to tell you all about it.

Image: adkwriter.wordpress.com

Image: adkwriter.wordpress.com

So, we visited some friends at the weekend, and (as well as having a wonderful time), they made my husband and I – or, well, me really – a present of seasons 1-3 of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer.’

No – wait! Don’t run away!

What do you mean, 'aaaargh?' Image: gautamsofficial.blogspot.com

What do you mean, ‘aaaargh?’
Image: gautamsofficial.blogspot.com

I know the topic of ‘Buffy’ can divide opinion – and, sometimes, it’s the people who’ve never watched the show who can have the loudest opinion – but I have to nail my colours to the mast right here.

I’m a fan.

I’m a massive fan of Joss Whedon, for a start; I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything he has had a hand in which I haven’t liked, at least somewhat. I love the way he writes women, and his imaginative use of myth and folklore, and the intelligent, complex humour that weaves its way through everything he’s made. So, it stands to reason that I’d be a fan of Buffy Summers and her ragged little Scooby Gang, battling to keep the world vampire-free.

However, I came late to ‘Buffy’. To me, the show is all about Willow being a powerful and sometimes rather evil witch, and Buffy’s complicated relationship with the vampire Spike, all of which comes well into the show’s development. Season 1 is all about Buffy’s relationship with the vampire Angel, of whom I was never really a fan – mainly because the show was all about Spike when I watched it – but I’m finally developing an appreciation for Angel as a character and as a focus for Buffy’s affection. It was moving to watch them fall in love, all the while with Buffy thinking he was human, until the inevitable moment when his true nature is forced to make an appearance.

In fact, I spent *cough* several hours yesterday watching one or two (or six) episodes, and it was huge fun to see all the characters as they were at the beginning of the show – young, and innocent, and in possession of the clunkiest high-heeled shoes and the frostiest lipstick known to man. It made me very nostalgic for my own 1990s teenage-hood, when girls went out to nightclubs dressed in slacks and jackets and nobody had mobile phones and the very idea of the internet was mind-blowing and most people listened to decent music and sarcasm was the lingua franca of everyone under thirty.

Sometimes, I really miss those days.

It was also great to see Willow the way she was at the show’s beginning – gentle, and quiet, and nerdy, and devoted to Xander, and totally unaware of her own magical powers. She was always one of my favourite characters (even when she was, you know, evil and set on destroying the world, and stuff), and watching the show would be worth it just for her.

Naaaaaw! Image: angelsrealm.com

Naaaaaw!
Image: angelsrealm.com

It’s a strange experience, from a narrative point of view, to watch the show backwards – as in, to only be experiencing its beginnings now, despite knowing how the story arcs end and how all the characters develop. It makes my viewing experience at once brand-new and exciting, as well as bittersweet. It also makes me appreciate exactly how much the characters grow and mature, and how interesting their stories are. For me, Buffy herself was always a weary, sick-and-tired-of-saving-the-world-again type character, so to see her as she is in season 1 (a cheerleading wannabe, running away from her past, trying to date and have a normal teenage life, full of pep and snarky humour) is great.

But mainly what watching ‘Buffy’ does is make me really, truly crazy that ‘Twilight’ is the vampire story that most young people are familiar with these days. ‘Buffy’ is still popular, and still a part of the mental world of teenage audiences, but I do think it has largely been replaced by Bella Swan and her moping nonsense. How has this happened? How have we replaced Buffy Summers – a kickboxing, weapon-slinging, intelligent, brave, resourceful, fearless, duty- and honour-bound warrior – with Bella Swan, whose single greatest achievement is managing not to fall over while walking down a school corridor and having a crush on a guy who sparkles in the sunlight?

Gaaaah!  Image: twilight.wikia.com

Gaaaah!
Image: twilight.wikia.com

It makes me ferocious to think that role models for girls have regressed to the point where they’d rather read about a character who devotes herself – body, mind and soul – to the needs of a man than learn about Buffy, who is a self-possessed, confident heroine in her own right. Buffy doesn’t need anyone. Her relationships are her own choices, and she owns her mistakes. She bravely goes wherever her duty calls her, and she never backs down. She sacrifices everything she has in order to save the innocent. She looks like the kind of girl who could cause some serious damage (and, indeed, the actress who played her had a black belt in taekwondo); Bella Swan looks like she’d fall over in a stiff breeze. Bella Swan never thinks about anyone outside of her own small circle. Bella’s story – from what I remember of it, which isn’t much – is largely about herself, and Edward (the vampire who becomes her husband), and their family. They fight, sure, but it’s to save themselves. Buffy fights evil because it is the right thing to do, and because it is her responsibility, and even though it weighs heavily on her she doesn’t shirk it. She fights to save people who don’t even know they’re in danger, and she suffers for it.

But no. We’d rather squee over Bella Swan’s wedding dress than fangirl over Buffy’s prowess with a crossbow.

Whatever.

I know where my loyalties lie.

Image: italiansubs.com

Image: italiansubs.com

Pedal to the Metal

I’m about 75% of the way through the fifth draft of ‘Tider’, and still going strong; it’s turning out to be more of a rewrite than a draft, however. I never cease to be amazed by the fact that you can’t just change one tiny detail when you’re doing novel edits. That one tiny detail, much like a snowball rolling down a hill, always seems to turn into a life-changing, book-wrecking disaster by the time you get to the end of the next chapter.

Image: losetheexcuses.blogspot.com

Image: losetheexcuses.blogspot.com

I have to keep reminding myself that, with every tweak, I am making the book better and stronger and more nuanced and ensuring it makes some sort of sense and tying up all manner of loose plotlines (nothing is as dangerous as a loose plotline, lying around). It would be impossible to keep going, otherwise. However it does feel, at times, like you’re going around in circles, making a change one day and removing it the next; I’m looking forward to finishing this draft and then leaving ‘Tider’ alone for as long as I can before going back to it with a fresh eye.

Also, yesterday, I finally managed to come up with an opening sentence that I’m happy with. I’ve been working on ‘Tider’ for nigh-on three months at this stage, and I’ve written and rewritten the book’s opening sentence at least fifteen thousand hundred squillion times, so finding one that I didn’t hate on sight was, I think, an achievement. It’s cruel that the most important sentence in the book, arguably, is the one that you have to write first, and the one with which you’re likely to be least happy. I’m really hoping I won’t look at this sentence again when I start working on the book today and wonder if I wrote it in a feverish, coffee-fuelled fit, and throw it out like so many others before it; I’d like to keep it, just for a while, and see if it grows on me.

Image: health.com

Image: health.com

As well as that, I came across a scene I’d written at one of the more action-packed escape sequences in the book which I can’t believe survived as long as it did. It comes at a point where the heroine has just taken a huge risk with her life and limb in order to get away from a pursuer, and she meets a small, secondary character. They proceed to have a long, pointless, rambling conversation that tells us nothing about either character and completely kills the forward momentum. When I read it yesterday it was one of those head-slappy moments where you gnash your teeth and tear your hair and scream at the sky:

What was I thinking?!?

Once I’d recovered from my melodrama, I rewrote the scene and cut out anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary (which was basically the entire scene). I ended up trimming over a thousand words. One thousand words is a lot of words to have in a scene that are doing absolutely nothing useful; one thousand words of dead weight, particularly all in one place, is really quite silly.

I know the rules – I know you’re not supposed to have so much as a sentence in your novel that doesn’t propel the action forward in some way (at least, for the sort of novel I’m trying to write – if you’re Umberto Eco or Paolo Coelho or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or someone like that, you’re allowed to use beautiful language, just because), and I know you’re supposed to move fast. So why did I have my protagonist stop off, mid-chase sequence, to chat to an extremely minor character about her troubled childhood?

Darned if I know. Image: gifrific.com

Darned if I know.
Image: gifrific.com

It’s strange how, sometimes, we can get lost inside the world we’re creating as we write. I’m glad to know that the character my protagonist meets had a hard life, and is unhappy in her job, but there’s no need to make it part of the story. Also, my protagonist is the type of person who is sympathetic to others, and I think that came out in the scene as I first wrote it. She met a sad, downtrodden woman and wanted to help her – that’s nice, but it doesn’t help the plot, so sadly it has to be junked.

*sigh*

FYI – at last count, my Offcuts file (where I keep all the bits and pieces I’ve snipped out of ‘Tider’) is 54,000 words.

Fifty. Four. Thousand. Words.

I’ll leave you with that nugget of knowledge for today.

Happy Thursday. If you make mistakes today, may they be small, and easily undone.