Character Development and Backstory
D.A. Dean

Know Your Character to the Marrow

I DVR’d the first season of Endeavour. Good decision. An all-’round fabulous series.
So, why not just tweet that? Why, instead, use that as the opening for a blog entry? Simple: as did the pilot episode, Endeavour, season 1, reminded me of the power of backstory. It reinforced to me the benefits of the writer’s knowing his/her main characters through and through–to the marrow–and the effect this can and should have on the viewer/reader, as well as on the story as a whole.
In this prequel to Inspector Morse, not only are the writers and the actor developing a thoroughly believable and compelling stand-alone character, they’re adding a layer, delving deeply into the backstory of a pre-existing, mightily-complex fictional being. And it’s powerful stuff. (I again must tip my hat to Colin Dexter, creator of Morse, and to the writers of the TV adaptations, who so deftly balanced disclosing enough to make us care and letting linger, half-hidden, enough to make us wonder.)
Like many other readers/viewers who enjoy character-driven stories, once my interest in a character is awakened, I want to know more.  And more. Not all at once, of course. Revelations, in fiction as in life, are best and most effectively offered, for my taste, a bit at a time, allowed to breathe, given time to blossom or to burn through metal, so to speak. And just as a discovery concerning someone well know to you can have profound effects, a discovery about a carefully-studied character–provided it’s a revelation that can be traced to a thread within the established tapestry–can evoke intense emotion.
As a reader and a viewer, I hunger for knowledge of characters’ inner workings. This isn’t to say I want a character study to the exclusion or detriment of plot progression.  Nor is this to say I need or even want to know all of a character’s secrets. But I want to feel with absolute certainty the writer does. For me, you see, it’s when well-paced and well-executed plot pairs with characters who are fully alive, ah, there’s the path to catharsis.
PS Though I easily figured out which character was the killer in episode 2, “Fugue,” (the actor allowed it to show through rather sharply), it didn’t matter–because I was so invested in the main character and the intricacies of his development. And near the end, there was a moment between Endeavour and his mentor that was so perfectly, achingly earned in the episode itself, so exquisitely, poignantly connected and revelatory to Morse’s older self…a few minutes later as the credits rolled, I did, in fact, have to wipe away tears.

Trust Your (Writer) Instincts
D.A. Dean

LightsI have a confession to make. In first, second, even third drafts, I often write in “scene shorthand.” I’m learning to slow down, to let the writing breathe, as I go. For me doing so is satisfying in a way scene shorthand can never be, and taking my time with a first draft certainly results in fewer rewrites (which saves time, in the end, and helps if what I’m writing is emotionally taxing). Still, this tendency toward shorthand remains. Knowing this affects how I edit my work. I’ve found:

Sometimes revision requires not only deletions but expansions.

I both respect and enjoy the editing process. Yet, like all writers, I occasionally meet strong internal resistance to eliminating a scene or a line. I’ve found that letting the decision wait a few days and/or talking it through helps me uncover the source of my resistance. Sometimes my resistance is self-indulgent (fondness for a moment, reluctance to abandon a section that was challenging to create, etc.) and, simply, I have to get over it and make the cut.

But sometimes my resistance is a crucial signal from my writer-self there’s something deeper about a scene or a line my editor-self hasn’t yet recognized.

One of the most important scenes in The Ways of Eternity (and to the I, Horus series) got written because I re-examined three lines that were falling flat. Several times I considered deleting those lines. I couldn’t do it.

And so, I lingered. I wrote.

I discovered the tipping-point event, so pivotal to my protagonist, three lines had represented. I discovered a missing scene, three pages long, now the ending of the first chapter. I discovered, as well, the chapter’s opening. (If you’re curious about the finished scenes, here’s a link: Light)

Had I not allowed myself the time to delve, had I just cut the three lines, both the reader and I would have missed experiencing with Horus the crucial moments in his first, essential transformation. We would have missed the moment of his rebirth, through water and light, and his resulting inner shift–the foundation for his love of humanity and, later, his choice to become humanity’s champion. I would have missed confirmation and the reader clues about Horus’ true nature, his larger purpose, and the core path he will follow throughout the series.

So, how about you? Are you a “scene shorthand” writer?

The next time you encounter your own resistance to a deletion, consider giving yourself time to find out why. Consider writing more. You might surprise yourself. And what  you discover just might serve well your story, your characters, your readers, and you.

Good luck!

Burst Your Outlook Open
D.A. Dean

Your Perception Is Only Limited by Your Outlook, So…

Burst Your Outlook Open!

Outlook and Perceptions“There’s nothing you can’t prove if your outlook is only sufficiently limited.” Lord Peter Wimsey in Whose Body, by Dorothy L. Sayers

Perceptive, Lord Peter. (Yes, though many literary characters hold a special place in my heart, he remains one of my favorites. Thank you, Ms. Sayers.)

“…If your outlook is only sufficiently limited.” How often do we make up our minds about something before we even arrive at the party, so to speak?

Perception, perception. Often and in so many ways, it’s been said we are our perceptions. Well, why not (like Lord Peter so often does) allow ourselves to expand and to peek beyond our own outlooks?

Let’s challenge our certainties. Let’s dismantle and re-form them as warranted. Hearts and minds open, we may find some certainties confirmed, others swept aside and a fresh path, luminous and resonant with promise, revealed.

Indeed, some of the most interesting paths are found this way. Certainly, the most intriguing, maddening, rewarding paths I’ve walked have appeared because I’ve turned to see them, a few stretching and wide, many narrow and half-hidden–or, of course, because someone else, recognizing a pivotal opportunity, gave me a loving shove.

I am thankful for the “loving shoves” I’ve received throughout my life. And in the last two months, oh, I’ve received a whole bunch of them. As a result, I’ve published an ebook (I spent years creating), I’m now on Twitter (two months today), and, well, I’m writing this blog on my own website (official launch five weeks ago come Monday).

Yes, it’s been a busy, overwhelming, surreal, and wonderful two months! I’m looking forward to what awaits in the next two. And the next. And. There’s always so much to learn, and though it can be discombobulating (I love that word) at times, it really is grand.

So, how about it? Are you limiting your outlook or dancing at your party? What path is revealing itself, shining, before you? Who are your “loving shovers”? And when’s the last time you told them “thank you”?

I’m off to tell a few of mine right now. Launch-Pt 2
D.A. Dean is Alive! (Pt 2)

D.A. Dean Site LogoWelcome to the launch party for my website, Come in, have a cuppa or raise a glass, and make yourself at home. I look forward to spending time with you here.

Over the next several weeks, there will be more and more happening as I add a Reader’s Corner, a multi-level feature that will grow to include:

Character List: The significant characters in The Ways of Eternity and each upcoming book in the I, Horus series will be listed alphabetically within character class as part an evolving Reader’s Guide.

Meet the Characters: Here you’ll find selected characters’ profiles. You may learn a few things that surprise you–or confirm your reader’s intuition.

Ask the Author: This page will house a form to submit your questions about the story (no spoilers to be given! ;-), the characters, or, if you’re so inclined, general questions about my writing process. And…

Since You Asked:  This is where I’ll post my answers to your Ask the Author questions. My plan is to post one or two replies as my writing schedule permits.

Favorites:  Here I’ll note some of the poets and fiction writers who most affect me, as well as other influences, past and present. I expect it will be a rather eclectic list. Perhaps we’ll have some favorites in common.

Also, I’ll be adding excerpts chosen from throughout The Ways of Eternity, passages that have special meaning to me.

Further into the future, as the 2nd installment in my series nears completion next year, I’ll pass along a chapter or two. Hm, completion of the 2nd installment. What a pleasing thought! Launch-Pt 1
D.A. Dean is Alive! (Pt 1)

Eye of HorusI offer a huge and deeply felt thank you to my webmaster, TB, for all you’ve done to bring my vision for this site to life. I value your talents, your insights, and your dedication. I feel fortunate, indeed, to be working with you.