While waiting for beta readers to finish reading Magic’s Stealing, I’ve been doing a lot of edits on The Multiverse Chronicles. However, editing is not writing, and I got the itch to write. I didn’t want to move to book two of The Wishing Blade series until book one was complete, and I just finished reading On Writing Romance, so I decided to attempt to write a new adult, science-fiction romance. It’s set in the early days of the Distant Horizon universe, where super villains have secretly taken over the US government and wiped out people with super powers, all by claiming they have a hallucinogenic plague. In hindsight, writing a romance was probably a terrible idea, given that I am not an avid romance reader, and romances tend to end badly in the DH universe. But it was a personal challenge, and I accepted.
Anyway, I’ve been writing scenes here and there, and I’ve been developing the characters. Since romance focuses heavily on character interaction, I soon found that I had an issue. My characters felt weak and unrelated to the plot. They interacted, but only loosely.
That wasn’t going to work.
So I started examining the individual characters, and how they interacted with the other characters in the story.
These are the original characters:
Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an undeclared major. Considering business or graphic arts. No powers. As a kid, she was raised by her mother, and due to shaky relations with her father, her mother instilled the whole ‘stranger danger’ fear in her daughter. Because of this, Tamara longs for stability, so she signs up for the new “EYEnet Match” program at her college, which promises to find her a near-perfect match.
Cole: The hero. College junior studying communication and leadership. Telepath, but he can’t tell anyone due to government regulations. He’s forced to join the EYEnet Match program as a means to get close to Tamara’s best friend, Amy, so that he can secretly scan her mind and see if she’s working with Challenge, a so-called terrorist cell. He doesn’t want to participate because he likes Tamara and he’s afraid he’ll end up hurting her if the government’s suspicions prove true.
Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman. No powers. Lost a sibling to the ‘plague.’ She believes in true love, and thinks the EYEnet Match program is basically another online dating site. She’s interested in linguistics. She’s a bit of a rebel, but she has no interest in Challenge. She starts to fall for Joan.
Joan: College freshman. Skeptical of EYEnet Match, but decides to give it a try. Develops feelings for Amy when they meet in linguistics club, causing problems with her own ‘match.’ Joan carries a shield, which blocks powers, and she secretly works for Challenge (the ‘terrorist’ cell that the government is eyeing. Most of them aren’t really terrorists, but that’s how they’re portrayed).
Mr. Rivera: The counselor who organizes the EYEnet Match program on campus. He is Cole’s government supervisor, and he believes he lost his daughter during a terrorist attack. He orders Cole to keep an eye on Amy, and arranges for Tamara and Cole to hook up so that Cole can get in close without raising suspicions.
The problem with this particular arrangement of characters, however, is that the main plot lacked a focus on Tamara and Cole. Plus, when I described Amy and Joan to my husband as I went through the basic points of the plot (and it doesn’t help that I accidentally kept calling the main character Amy), he initially thought that Amy and Joan were the same person. Not only were the characters weak, but the plot lacked a strong conflict. Why wouldn’t Mr. Rivera have Cole keeping an eye on Joan, instead?
My husband suggested that I ‘kill my darlings’ and merge Amy and Joan’s characters. Then he suggested that I develop Tamara’s character a bit differently, since she currently had very little effect on how the story played out.
These are the modified characters:
Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an interest in journalism. Secretly keeps a stash of old articles detailing the history of super powers, so she immediately becomes suspicious of Cole, who seems to read her mind. Nosy, she’s gets herself involved with the plot as she seeks answers to Cole’s secrets. She still has her family background of instability, which increases her need to know what he’s hiding because she longs to make their relationship work.
Cole: Hero. Not much changed from above. He believes his powers are a result of the plague, at least until Tamara gets involved.
Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman studying linguistics. Has powers– the extended ability to block other people’s powers. She’s not a member of Challenge, but she’s trying to get their attention because she wants in, and it’s leading her to make a few rash decisions. In the past she was close friends with a cousin who was part of the program, but he kept her powers a secret from them and refused to let her join because he wanted her to get an education first. She has no interest in EYEnet Match, and because she’s not interested in men, Mr. Rivera can’t have Cole approach her directly.
Mr. Rivera: Still a counselor and still Cole’s supervisor, but now, instead of believing that he lost his daughter during an attack, he knows the truth– she was killed by the government villains because she was one of the dissidents. But Mr. Rivera maintains the charade of believing the lies so he can act as a double-agent. He pairs Cole with Tamara because he wants Cole close to Amy, mostly so he can find out if she might be interested in joining Challenge.
By combining Amy and Joan’s characters, and fleshing out the details of the other characters, we have relationships that are ripe for conflict, while still ensuring that these characters actually want to be together. Combining characters won’t always work, but it often leads to stronger character development. I plan to move a couple lines from Joan to a minor character, but other than that, I think combining them will make the story much stronger.
Now I’ve got to decide on her new name: Amy, Joan, JoAnn, Amy Jo/AJ… the list goes on. For now, I’m listing her as Amy in the manuscript, and I’ll do a ‘find and replace’ once I make a decision.
I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂
Have you ever thought about combining characters to make a story stronger?