Friday, December 14, 2007

Bring on a Character in Character

It’s a good rule to follow: if a character in your book is an actor, when he’s first introduced to your readers, he should be in a theater. A painter should be painting. A hit man should be killing someone or at least scoping him out. A character with a quick temper should be shown in a rage. I know this. Yet for some reason, in the first draft of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, I slipped up.

The hero of my historical mystery series, Sebastian St. Cyr, has a nemesis named Charles, Lord Jarvis. Jarvis is the Machiavellian powerbroker behind the throne of the weak regency of the man who will eventually become George IV. Yet the first time we met him in the original version of SERPENTS, he was simply in the library of his house. Yes, during the course of the ensuing scene he ordered one of his henchmen to do some dastardly deeds. But while I talked a lot during the book about how powerful and all knowing he was, I never actually showed it. Until, that is, my editor pointed it out. Bless her.

Now, in the new version, we first meet Jarvis when he’s dealing with the Prime Minister. There is no doubt that Jarvis is the more powerful figure. We see him controlling a network of spies and agents. In short, in the final version of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, I bring Jarvis on in character.

Perhaps I slipped up because this is book four of a series, and I was forgetting the need to reestablish each character in each book. Perhaps I slipped up because, after all these years, Jarvis’s character is so engrained in me that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t showing it. Whichever, I’m thankful my editor caught my mistake, and I intend to be very careful not to do something similar in future books.

In essence, it’s just one facet of the old maxim, Show Don’t Tell. Show me your character is a jockey or a drug dealer, don’t tell me.

19 comments:

Steve Malley said...

Hm! A *very* important rule I've never seen stated before!

I can't think of a single time I've seen it broken, but that was the first time I've heard it...

Charles Gramlich said...

That is a great rule that I've never heard said before. I think I usually do this unconsciously, but like Steve, I've never had it called to my awareness.

Cool.

Shauna Roberts said...

I had never heard this rule, either. I usually do this, but from now on I'll make sure I do it.

Farrah Rochon said...

Great post! That's always something to keep in mind. This is one I'll have to come back and reread every now and again.

Lisa said...

Ha! I'm glad I read this before I posted my crazy Dickens Challenge chapter. I was headed that way to start, but this post made me realize it was important to do it.

liz fenwick said...

Great rule.....of to go check the wip

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