If your characters don’t connect with your readers, your book won’t work, your story will fall flat.
I introduced the fierce old Abnak sub-chief, Uduqu, in Book No. 2, The Cellar Beneath the Cellar. I liked him and kept him around. And in Book No. 7, The Glass Bridge, he took part in a desperate battle.
I won’t forget how my wife and my editor reacted when they thought I’d killed off this character. They were about ready to scalp me. Sheesh, what was I thinking! But they only had to read a few more paragraphs before they learned Uduqu was all right, after all.
There are characters who walk into the story just to do some little thing and then wind up staying to do a lot of things, and growing, and getting you attached to them. With 12 Bell Mountain novels published so far, there are of necessity an awful lot of characters.
Why am I talking about this when I have to crank out a Newswithviews column? Oh, I don’t know. Do I feel a need to justify populating my books with all those characters?
Well, heck, it’s a history–like Livy’s history of Rome. Count up all the characters in Livy sometime. True, the history of Obann, in my books, is fictional. Some uncharitable souls have said the same of Livy. Not to mention Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Herodotus. I guess if you don’t like their histories, you won’t like mine, either. But there’s something to be said for a book that’s stayed in print since 400 B.C.
[Confidential to “Unknowable”: I hear you, brother!]
Actually, the Orcs aren’t so much interested in colonizing as they are in tailgating and honking at you to drive faster–especially when you’re stopped at a red light. When they’re not doing that, they’re operating leaf blowers.
But what I really wanted to do with this post, back in 2014, was to call attention to what was then my newest Bell Mountain book, the seventh in the series, The Glass Bridge. I still marvel at the way artist Kirk DouPonce brought Gurun to life.
I find it very hard to remember she’s not a real person. And sometimes I don’t bother trying.
There’s something I would love to be able to do, which no writer can do–and that would be to get inside the reader’s head, as it were–and “see” the people and places and scenes I write about as the reader sees them. Ever since I announced the Bell Mountain Movie Contest, I’ve been thinking about that.
On two occasions–and even just one is extremely rare–my cover artist, Kirk DouPonce, working from live models who are just kids in his neighborhood, painted one of my characters exactly as I imagined her: Ellayne, on the cover of The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, and Gurun, on the cover of The Glass Bridge. It is as if these two fictional characters that I created were real people, after all: so much so, that somehow the words “I created” seem rather silly. I can’t create real people!
It would be eerie, to meld my own imagination with the reader’s and look with his or her mind’s eye on some place in Lintum Forest, or on the great Temple of Obann, or the cloud on the summit of Bell Mountain. What if they looked to the reader exactly as they “look” to me?
These remarks may strike some of you as a little weird. But writing fantasy novels does tend to lean a bit in that direction. And there are always readers who are curious about what it’s like to be a writer. So here goes.
I’m editing Bell Mountain No. 11, The Temptation, which means I have to read it attentively. And although I do know I made up the characters that populate my books, it doesn’t feel anymore like I made them up! They feel like real people that I really know.
When I’m actually writing a book, I’m too deeply involved in writing it to respond to what I’ve written. So when I read it, much later, it’s a whole different experience–almost as if someone else wrote the book, not me. I read a passage that gets to me and find myself thinking, “Oh, I didn’t write that! Did I? Could I?” It feels like these characters, places, and events came into print through me and have a real existence that has little or nothing to do with me. As if I were more a chronicler than a creator.
I wonder if other writers feel these things. I know she isn’t, but at the same time I just can’t shed the notion that Gurun (that’s her, pictured above) is a real person who is even now doing things, experiencing things, that I don’t know about.
I believe the people I read about in the “news” are real, don’t I?
I have a special fondness for this book. Maybe it’s because cover artist Kirk DouPonce depicted Gurun exactly as I imagined her. I don’t know how he does that; and it wasn’t the first time, either. Ellayne on the cover of The Cellar Beneath the Cellar is better than a photograph.
Anyway, the point of all my Bell Mountain books is to serve God by writing, I hope, what He gives me.
Gee, I wonder why my Glass Bridge sales are so anemic. Could it have anything to do with the prices which amazon.com lists for the paperback? Here they are, as posted:
*$1,993.62 (62 cents? eh?)
*2 used from $1,497.71 (what?)
*1 new from $1,993.62
Why is amazon doing this to my book, which never did them any harm? What kind of loon is going to pay those prices? What disturbed mind did those prices come from?
It may be that one of you out there knows why this happens. It can’t be doing my book any good! If you know, please let me in on it. Meanwhile, I’ll see if there’s any way I can get an answer from amazon.
(As long as my head’s still full of Novocain, I might as well just keep on writing.)
The girl in the boat is named Gurun. She originated as the central character in a dream I had one night. I made her a character in my books; and then cover artist Kirk DouPonce brought her to life. Almost alarmingly so! He painted her exactly as I saw her, first in a dream, then in my mind’s eye as I wrote about her. I don’t know how he does that.
People ask me how real the world of my fantasy novels is to me, its creator. “Unknowable” was wondering about that today. Well, Gurun seems real to me; and she was also real to Kirk.
I have to be able to “see” it and “hear” it as if it were a movie playing in my head; that if I don’t, I can’t write it. In that sense it’s real to me. While I’m writing it, I have to be, as it were, in the scene I’m writing about. As if I were standing there in person, watching and listening. I don’t imagine this comes to any writer except with many years of practice and literally by the grace of God: it is a gift of God, so I can’t brag about it. I’m grateful He has allowed me to do this!
I can hardly wait to see what ideas He’ll give me for the next book.
So yes, in a way, it is like really being there. I lose track of the time, once I really get going.
And then I close the legal pad and put down my pen, and I’m back in New Jersey.
Weather permitting, tomorrow I hope to start writing the next book of my Bell Mountain series. That would be Book No. 11, with No. 10, The Silver Trumpet, still being edited and waiting for cover art, a blurb, and everything else.
How does one of these books get started? I have to wait for the Lord to give me something–a scene, a new character, a title, any kind of hint. I never know what it’s going to be. The Fugitive Prince (No. 5) blossomed out of a brief observation of lacewings fluttering around the porch light on a summer night. The Silver Trumpet was just the title, nothing more. The Temple (No. 8) was a continuation of the story from No. 7, The Glass Bridge, plus an urge to see a prehistoric marine reptile like the one Kirk DouPonce depicted on the cover.
The Silver Trumpet left me with several story lines that have to be continued. The new book, so far, is nothing but a tentative title–The Temptation–and a single scene involving a horrific experience for Lord Chutt.
What will happen in this novel? Beats me! I really don’t know, and I’ll just have to wait and see it unfold. I used to prepare my novels in fine detail, going so far as to make up color-coded index cards for each subplot and trying various arrangements until I found what seemed to be the best one.
But now I just wing it, trusting in the Lord to show me the way; and so far, He has. Much better than I could have done myself.