Friday, March 3, 2017

Where Did All These People Come From?

I'm still hard at work (more or less) trying to plot out this murder mystery. I've decided to write the thing for Camp NaNo in April, so that gives me about a month to construct a skeleton. Plenty of time, right?

Right now I'm focused on characters (while toying with plot structure on the side) and they’re not quite behaving. My initial plan was to have an ensemble piece, with focus on all the characters present. All six or eight of them. But the more I try to develop the idea, the more a single main character takes over. And I guess that's okay. As I said last week, it’s not uncommon for my original plan to go out the window. It's a weakness of mine, and I'm working on it.

With the issue of characters comes the issue of backgrounds. As in, the characters' background. Things like race, religion, nationality, even their hometown. There's just a big question of "why" in the middle of all this.  By which I mean, why is a given character in possession of a given background. If your story is about racism, or the struggles of the Russian proletariat, then a character's background matters.

But what if it doesn't matter?

The reason I ask is because one of my characters—the self-proclaimed main character—is British. In my mind, at least. But see, the problem with that is there's no reason for it. Nothing about who he needs to be and what he needs to do implies any particular background.

But I cast my characters, which I know I shouldn't do. I get a particular image in my head, and that informs the rest of the character. That's why CiarĂ¡n MacClellan of The Tower was from Northern Ireland, Raz Amari (a post-apocalyptic neo-Bedouin) of Secrets and Thieves was vaguely Egyptian, Ian Martin of Once Upon a Writing Desk was from Lancashire, and Arabella of Cold Blooded was Hispanic/African. That's just how I cast them in my head. There's no in-story reason for it.

It's hard having diverse characters. Sure, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of minorities. Different races, sexualities, beliefs… throw them all in. But they can't just be diverse for the sake of being diverse. Their struggles have to be the story's struggles. Because if their background is irrelevant to the story, why is it there?

Everything has to matter.

It's Chekhov's backstory. Every element that is introduced must serve some purpose later on. You can't just go around throwing in random attributes. And frankly, that's annoying. Sometimes you want to add some flavor, something to make these characters distinct. But if it’s not relevant to the plot, does it really have a place? I don't know. Like I keep saying, I don't know what I'm doing.

So while, yes, the dude in the story (he doesn't have a name, and it doesn't have a title) is British in my head, he won't be British on paper. That's the way I picture him, but it doesn't actually matter. So I guess no one else needs to know.

Join me on Tuesday, when I'll still be clueless, no doubt.


  1. haha. Just one more thing I do when editing. I try not to cast my characters or create a solid image of them until I've written my first draft because I learn about them through the writing process. But that's just me.

  2. This is a difficult matter indeed.
    I'm attempting to use outlines of story structure to make sure I get from point A to B, then letting the quirky and robust characters create havoc within those parameters. Because when everything is essential, you're writing a textbook. It's sterile. It's a terrarium with no world outside the glass walls.
    Now, if this outline thing works I too shall get something published in this lifetime. Don't hold your breath.