Friday, January 13, 2012

a character does not exist until you give her a name

So I spent all week jerking this rewrite out of my guts with various implements of destruction--believe me when I say, it's much easier to just write the damn thing correctly the first time, than to go back and try to take it apart and fix it later.

I actually hacked through to the end yesterday. Finished around 8:30 p.m. As I'm getting ready for bed it finally dawned on me that my face was breaking out and my gums were sore and the muscles in my neck hurt because I am COMING DOWN WITH A COLD, DUMBASS.

This morning I have a touch of headache, touch of swollen throat, touch of malaise, but I'll survive. None of that is really important, the important thing is that all the time I was writing yesterday, I had this concept chugging along in the back of my brain, a new concept, new character, new situation.

I've been thinking about my Eurasian steampunk assassin for several weeks now, and she has gradually been taking shape. Wednesday night I hounded my sifu for name options in Cantonese and he gave me one that worked. Personally, I can't work with a character until s/he has a name. I can think in general terms––what kind of character has the best personal motivation to be the right "fit" for this conflict––but I can't really find a voice until I have a name. I mentioned that to Sit t'other night and he was very pleased, for obscure Chinese reasons. "Ah, she follow Confucius," he said. (I swear I'm not making this up, so don't accuse me of perpetuating stereotypes.) "Confucius said nothing is real until you give it a name."

So on Wednesday, Lily Quinn became a real person to me. Her Chinese name is Shiao Yin, which means 'little swallow.' She needs an assassin name but we're still working on that.

And over the course of yesterday, while I was forcing myself through the wastelands of Wyoming, the story-building machinery was slowly coming to boil in the back of my brain. Character motivation A meshed with Historical Event B and layered neatly into literary reference C, thus throwing narrative Point of View D into neat focus.

There's a reason why we refer to plots as 'formulaic'. That's exactly what they are: alchemy. Cold fusion, even.

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