Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)
“Good afternoon! I figure you all know this by now, seeing as how this is the third lecture in this series, but my name’s ‘Tack’ Carlson. I’ve learned a couple of your names, but I have to tell you, I’m pretty good with faces. I think that’s part of being a lawyer, at least of the courtroom variety. We’re pretty good observers, and right decent at telling how you feel about things. After all, that’s my job: to get you to feel a certain way about the facts, and I can’t change your feelings if I can’t tell what they are now.
I don’t see any unfamiliar folks out there…did you all attend the first two talks? Great! Don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a test. You’ll get those in your regular classes here at Fictional Character University…I’m just a guest speaker for an elective.
Let’s just do a little review first.
The name of this series is Surviving ‘The End’. Everybody in here is a lead character in a first novel which is still in a draft. I’m hoping to help you get past that first novel and on to a second.
I’m not going to claim to have all the answers, but I’ve done it myself, and I can humbly say, well as much as a lawyer can ever be humble, that I know something about the topic.
In the first talk, I told you about
Rule #1: You have to accept change.
I explained how long-lasting characters usually have some kind of stress in their first novels, or just before the novel starts. It’s part of your origin story, and helping the real-worlders get to where you are…at least in their heads.
In the second one, we discussed
Rule #2: Be the same.
Anybody remember what else I called that?”
“The principle of ‘Ride the same horse'”.
“Yep! Antares, isn’t it?”
“Just knowing somebody’s name is a pretty low thresholding for grokking, isn’t it?”
“Maybe I didn’t say it just because you knew my name.”
“Maybe not. I remember we had a nice piece of dialog. Ready to ride with me a bit further?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure Antares knows the answer, but what’s the topic of today’s talk?”
“Have interesting friends?”
“Yes…friends and enemies, for that matter. Thanks for giving Antares time to respond to some texts…although I’m guessing you’ve been doing that all along. What’s your name?”
“Sujay Rodriguez, but they call me ‘C.J.’. I’m a safety inspector.”
“Do you inspect anything in particular?”
“I used to work for a state agency, but my job got eliminated. I got a decent severance package, so now I freelance…anything, anywhere, any time.”
“How does that work? How do you have all that knowhow?”
“Most safety issues involve the same thing…somebody doing something stupid. That usually isn’t the guy who gets hurt…it’s the guy who told the guy who got hurt what to do.”
“The rest of it’s just a matter of doing the research.”
“I understand doing research. Not sure I’d want to have you on a jury in a negligence case, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t want to have most of us characters on a jury…we have a tendency to take over. You know, a lot of strong personalities.
That brings me to today’s topic.
We have those strong personalities, but that’s not enough. We need to have other folks around us, too…and interesting folks.
They can be a lot of things: sidekicks; bosses; friends; lovers; enemies…there are a lot of choices.
Here, let me demonstrate with something I call the ‘And Chain’.
We talked about Sherlock Holmes before. If I say, ‘Sherlock Holmes and…’, and you know I’m talking about another person, what would you say? ‘Watson’, right? Let’s keep going…give me a different answer. Holmes and…”
“The Baker Street Irregulars.”
“Good answer! We could keep going. All of these characters are memorable. All of them have appeared in more than one Holmes title. Real world readers know them.
How about a more recent example…Stephanie Plum. Stephanie Plum and…”
“Well, it sounds like the class generally agrees with you. Let’s keep going. Stephanie Plum and…”
“Yes, he owns the Bail Bonds business…and he’s Stephanie’s cousin.”
“That’s not a character!”
“Actually, I would consider Rex, the hamster, a character…and I reckon my horse Seafounder would agree with me. Characters don’t have to be human beings…heck, dogs and cats have been main characters, along with a whole slew of other species. There are other human characters, and if I name off a few I think most of you will recognize them: Connie, who also works in the Bonds office; Grandma Bella; Moon-Man Dunphy; and that’s not even counting crossover folks and one-timers.
The point is, you might be super interesting, but you aren’t enough. Humans are social animals: it wouldn’t seem realistic to the real-worlders, so to speak, if you existed in a vacuum. Besides, some people are going to read your books just to catch up on those other characters…and them reading your books is what’s going to keep you alive.”
“Speaking of staying alive, shouldn’t Rex be in the Guinness book as the oldest hamster ever?”
“Well, he’s not as old as Sherlock Holmes, and he is still going strong. I wanted to introduce you to somebody. Come on out! This here’s Catherine Ketcham, better known as–“
“Catch ’em Kate!”
“Thank you, Antares. How many of you have heard of Catch ’em Kate? Great! How would you describe the character?”
“A female bounty hunter?”
“Just a bounty hunter will do, mister. My sex ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”
“Easy, Kate. I’m sure that’s how Stephanie Plum get described, too.”
“That don’t make it right, Tack. What’s wrong for me is wrong for that Jersey gal.”
“Gender and diversity is an issue that we can save for another time.”
“Ain’t it always?”
“I wanted to give it a full session, that’s all. You know I’ve never treated you any differently.”
“That’s for durn sure.”
“Um…where was I? Right, the importance of having other characters like Kate with you in your stories. What I do as a lawyer would be pretty tame…Kate runs them down, and that brings a needed boost of adrenaline to the Courtroom Cowboy novels.”
“Yep…and then you get them bonded out again.”
“If I do, that just gives you another chance to bring them in, right? Twice the bounty.”
“Them’s lawyerin’ words. You always did know how to turn scat into flapjacks.”
“Does anybody have any questions?”
“Where’s Dusty Ambush?”
“I was hoping for a question for Kate, who was kind enough to join us today.”
“Tell ’em, Tack.”
“Okay, Kate. It is educational, even if…emotionally uncomfortable. Dusty was too weak to make the trip. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep getting new books and stories published, not to mention the adaptations, and to have Kate’s assistance, Dusty…well, Dusty hasn’t been in a new novel for, oh, thirty years or so. You’ve heard about characters fading into obscurity…that’s what’s happening with Dusty. He’s getting weaker and weaker…some days, it’s hard to even make out what he’s saying.”
“That’s something you all have to understand. As long as real-worlders are reading you, you’ll stick around. Having new stories for them helps, but if they are reading your old stuff, that will keep you strong and vital.”
“Gerry Carlyle! Sorry for the interruption, class. This is Gerry Carlyle, from the Interplanetary Hunter stories. Gerry, can this wait? I’m in the middle of a lecture.”
“Sorry, no. It’s an emergency.”
“Did you need Kate?”
“We could always use another strong arm, but we also need a lawyer…and that means you, ‘Professor'”.
“I guess that ends today’s lecture, then. I’ll have the school let everybody know if we need to reschedule the next one. Gerry, can you at least tell them the nature of the case?”
“Who else is with you?”
“Jimgrim, Edward Malone, Frank Reade, and Mrs. Paschal.”
“Sounds like you’ve got plenty of room for me and Kate. Let me ask you: that spaceship of yours have room for a few observers?”
“Thanks! I’m sure you don’t mind if I bring along a few of these students…it would be great for them to see a real adventure, and I think they could be helpful.”
“As long as they aren’t just deadheading.”
“Oh, they’ll work, I’m sure. Everybody’s signed field trip releases, right? Or had their legal guardians give approval? Good. Antares…the baker…and let’s bring the cat. As for the rest of you, I want you to think about those three lessons: embrace the change, be the same, and have interesting friends and enemies. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.
One last thing…Gerry, I hate to ask you this, but–“
“Seafounder’s already onboard in one of the holding pens.”
“That horse is a durn sight smarter than Tack, anyway.”
“You know, Gerry, if you aren’t sure there’s enough room to take all of us, maybe Ms. Ketcham…never mind, I’m just kidding. Kate’s right about Seafounder…although it sounds like my legal education might be of some small use in this instance.”
“I told you we needed you. Look, we need to go now…you two can argue after we blast off.”
“I’m sure we will…it wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t. I hate to leave the class in such suspense…can’t you just give them a hint?”
“Professor Challenger’s been arrested.”
“Where are we going? I’ll need to study up on local jurisdiction on the way.”
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