The best part of writing fantasy is the making up stuff part. Of course everything is based on some sort of fable or mythology, something someone somewhere said or wrote or in Disney’s case, animated, so we all just accept it as fantasy fact. Like most writers, I absolutely LOVE breaking the accepted rules and building worlds based on my own concepts. Post-divorce superpowers I suppose, but controlling what happens inside my fantastical environments is more fun than hitting the lottery. (Not like I’d know.)
Take my paranormal romance, Cold in California. The vampire/hero/protagonist and all around handsome dude is Gabriel Strickland. For a vampire, he seems not too unusual, right? But my vampire is dead. Really and truly dead. Staked-and-gonzo-for-the-final-time dead. So how can I be telling his story if he’s dead? Because I LOVE to break the rules. My double-dead vampire has been chosen for one last chance to earn heaven.
Aside from his lovely heroine, I needed a cast of characters. I wanted a particular character who could sustain behind the scenes and come forward to play a big role in the slam bang ending. I wanted a character the reader would be looking around the corners of the story to get a glimpse of and anxious to see again. An extremely fun and interesting character among the other dead supernaturals living in a West Hollywood warehouse and working to earn a ticket through the pearly gates. I chose a pixie.
According to Encyclopedia Mythica:
The term Pixie is derived from Picts, a well-known old race from Northern England and Scotland. Other name origins are obscure. As usual, the Little People were hostile to their conquerors. They stole cattle and destroyed crops, resented the fact that they were driven away from the best lands. But some friendships occurred too, sometimes even leading to marriages between the invaders and the larger of the Little People.
Well nice, but not my pixie. Her name is Shirley and she’s a wild card. She’s beautiful with a streak of playful wickedness that both irritates and intrigues the other residents. She’s five feet tall and has long golden hair, smells of sweet caramel and serves as a sexual dynamo without much of a conscience. Exploring Shirley and her journey to the final end turned out to be a blast. Next week I’ll be posting Shirley’s background in the Cold in California character pages at my author’s site. Where she came from and where she’s going is part and parcel of creating the world I wanted to portray. This gal isn’t throwing pixie dust around, she’s finding self-pleasure and hoping final judgment doesn’t catch up with her. She’s a supporting character and I had fun writing her. I let her play and cause mischief, but I let her shine too.
I’ve found that this technique of creating a different view of a character works well even in genres outside paranormal or urban fantasy. It’s a big question writers love to ask. The big WHAT IF.
One cool exercise I enjoy when developing character is to simply jot down the obvious about that character as I originally see them. Is s/he average? A nerd? Stunning but evil? Does s/he have scruples or run on instinct? Does the character’s logic reflect his/her background or are they off the map? Once that list is made, I make a counter list, a WHAT IF list.
What if my nerdy hero discovers he has serious bedroom eyes he never knew he had? Or better yet, what if he discovers the hidden strength of his nerdiness to win the hot girl or save the world he loves (even if that just means the corner coffee shop he frequents)?
What if the mean boss is more than just a handsome dude with power to wield fire and brimstone over his staff? What if he’s deeply troubled? Likes to wear sequined shoes alone at night or only eats white food? What journey can he take toward discovering how to manage such things? What if he does an amazing out-of-character action that sets a whole new tone for the story?
The big WHAT IF is all about telling a story in a way the reader doesn’t expect. Finding new paths to telling the same old tale is vital right now as every agent and publisher out there is looking for the illusive X-Factor – whatever that is. (I think it’s a secret code among the powers that be and it’s our job to unravel it with remarkable narrative and creative points of view.)
I’ve always believed that creativity is plagiarism with a flair; a spark no one ever thought of before. If your hero, a mild-mannered bag boy at the local Piggly Wiggly, is also a master of Feng Shui and slightly psychic to boot, you might be getting somewhere. And if my pixie is a two million year old over-sexed trickster who never learned her lesson and suddenly finds her sense of right and wrong, something unique and magical happens to affect the whole story.
Even with an amazingly original plot concept, if our characters aren’t just as original … it can all crash and burn. At least that’s this writer’s feelings on the subject. Never mind that I’m lost in the middle of pixie pandemonium. Viva la big WHAT IF!