Side Characters and the Spin-Off

Posted: May 21, 2014 in Uncategorized
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My New Years’ Resolution was to blog more, which I’m currently not doing.  Mainly because I write stories, and any stories I write, I’ll publish.  And because I’m not that famous yet, there’s not a lot of news to report.  So, what is there to blog about?  I was talking not long ago with an acquaintance who mentioned that a blog based on my journey as a writer, featuring writing habits and practices, my take on character development, different pre-writing rituals I may have, etc., would not only be interesting fodder for a blog, but may help inspire other such writers.  So, while currently writing the third short story featuring one-time Catholic Priest Austin Finnegan, I wanted to stop and share a few thoughts.

I love Swyftt.  He’s the meat of the entire book series.  The protagonist.  The one who will change the most and seemingly has the most to lose.  He’s very deeply flawed, but hopefully, at the end of the day, he’s relatable.  He’s also the only character that I have the beginning, middle and end of his journey mapped out.  But he’s just one guy, and no man’s an island, as the saying goes.

So there’s Ape and Nadia.  Once, Huxley and the Hand of Shanai.  Hunter.  There was Alara.  Of course, Anna.  

The side characters, for me, help make the world what it is.  I’ve said it for years regarding comic books/movies: a hero’s only as good as his villain.  His friends, also.  So, I set out to fill Swyftt’s world with the wackiest, craziest, coolest characters I could think of.  Some, by now, you’ve met.  Some, no doubt, I haven’t even met yet.  However, I’m very excited for you to meet Alex.  He’s a Baptist preacher, on the scale of Billy Graham.  Oh…and he’s a werewolf.

I started this journey in 2008, when I first began crafting the Midnight Defenders as a comic book series (before scrapping that idea and turning it into a novel series, instead), and in my developing process, once I’d established the world and Swyftt and Ape, I discovered this short-lived TV show called the Dresden Files.  I enjoyed the show for what it was, but that drew me to Jim Butcher’s novels, which I quickly fell in love with.  I’d never really read Urban Fantasy novels prior.  I’d been a fan of TV’s Supernatural since the pilot, but these books were different.  Supernatural has the focus solely on the Winchester brothers, at least initially, before eventually allowing Bobby and Castiel to come alongside them.  With the Dresden novels, I found the side characters to be as compelling, if not more so, than Harry Dresden himself.  Thomas, Billy, Karen (to a lesser degree)…  While I enjoyed those first two novels, what sold me on the series was Michael, the Knight.  And when I finished book 3, I made myself a promise that if I was going to do this thing, I needed side characters like Michael Carpenter.  

Time will tell if I make good on that promise…

However, despite my best efforts, my favorite side characters happened by accident…  every time.  First, Finnegan.  He was created to fill a need.  In The Dark Communion, I needed a Catholic priest to explain to our heroes the mystery of the book’s title.  I didn’t want the stereotypical Catholic Priest who comes off like a pantywaist, just some crotchety old dude whose saving grace is his homeless outreach.  So, for whatever reason, I pictured Justin Hartley, because we were watching Smallville at the time, and he was my favorite character on that show (another compelling side-character).  I wanted him to be connected to the Midnight, so he became a member of the Hand, which created conflict between Swyftt and Ape (which, conflict is always good).  Ape called him in to assist in the climactic end battle, and he became this sort of Wild West gunfighter.  And then, all of a sudden, he was really compelling to me.  Once his story ended in the book, I realized I had more I wanted to do with him and came up with the idea behind “The Confessor,” Finnegan’s first short story.  I had no idea how that story would end, and I won’t spoil it here, but his journey in that story took him away from Swyftt’s own.  So I wrote another short story.  Now I’m writing another.  I have plans for at least one more, and then he may connect back into the novels at some point.  

Also, there was Chuck.  Chuck was created to die, essentially.  He was a total red-shirt.  Special Agent Natasha Stone hated Swyftt.  I wanted to give her more of a reason to, so why not kill off her partner.  Originally, he died at the end of book 1, but the problem was, I liked him too much as a character and decided to keep him around. Initially, when I wrote book 1, it was significantly longer than the final product.  Chuck had so much more development.  Then I cut 1/3 of the book, and Chuck’s role was reduced, but certain scenes were repurposed for book 2, like his origin/backstory.

When I got to The Stars Never Rise, I pulled a “Finnegan” once more — creating a character to fill a need, but liking him and developing him further.  Book 2’s Finnegan was London Ixit.  Swyftt needed better ammo, and I figured he would have a gun guy that was part of the Hunter lifestyle.  In London’s case, semi-retired.  I loved that the final product was the grizzled, hard-core racist, over-the-top character that reminds of us all of someone we know in our personal lives (well, at least if you live in Tennessee).  Maybe we don’t like that person so much.  In case it didn’t come across in book 2, Swyftt doesn’t like London, but they have a history.  Another thing I did was use London to explain certain ticks that Swyftt has developed over the years: like thinking of his guns as women.  We pick up habits (good and bad) from the people we hang around.  It made sense.  London kind of bows out at the end of book 2.  His fate was such that people have asked me, where did London go?  Don’t worry.  He’ll be back.  Both in the future and the past.  He’s got a budding bromance that’s developing now between he and Ape, which I will likely explore in Book 3, and I intend to poke more into his history with Swyftt in at least one short story…

Cassiday is the final character I want to mention.  My good friend Marc, who does much of my editing and whose opinion I value highly, brought Cassiday to my attention.  In The Dark Communion, when Swyftt goes into the Song to find Seven, Cassiday is sitting at a table by himself.  He’s unnamed, but Marc asked me who that character was (with the backwards ball cap and bomber jacket)…like I was foreshadowing him, like he should be important.  He wasn’t at the time I wrote TDC, but it sparked in me a desire to flesh him out and see who the character could be.  I can’t say Cassiday was like Finnegan…he was more like Crestmohr.  The groundskeeper was created in book 1, not much was said about him, apart from Swyftt thinking he wasn’t strictly human, and book 2 elaborated a bit more.  I had no idea what Crestmohr was when I wrote book 1, but…and you can call it my subconscious mind or whatever (I call it the Holy Spirit)…something knew and had a plan.  And what Crestmohr turned out to be is so much bigger than just a background character.  Cassiday is that way.  As I developed him a little more in TSNR, I just left his nature ambiguous.  Now, having developed the character further, what he is lends itself to a larger archetype in Swyftt’s world.  

It’s so hard to only give hints, rather than just detailing everything that’s in my head.  Wait and see for Cassiday.  The idea of it excites me, and not only will he show up again (probably in book 5), but once his nature is revealed, he’ll be getting an origin tale in the form of his own short story.  

All of that is to say, I don’t approach side characters and spin-off stories like a Hollywood movie company, which is to say, because I think I can milk a cash cow.  I create characters simply as the story demands and revisit them as I feel the story deserves.  For me, I try to write stories that I find exciting and I create characters that I find compelling.  It’s why I love to write.  Because I go into a book with an outline on paper and the story always takes unexpected turns, and new characters always pop up by the end of the book and I meet new friends.  

Along the lines of some compelling side characters, I will tease a few.  I’ve already mentioned Alex, though he’s still a little ways off.  Book 3, you’ll see a familiar character in a completely unique and awesome way, as well as a completely off-the-wall new monster.  Eventually, you’ll see psychopaths, dark elves, Lamia, and, of course, the Hand of Shanai (complete with their origin story).  

If you’ve enjoyed the ride so far, all I can say is, buckle up.  Because there are ten books planned, and the fun is just beginning.

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