Friday, April 23, 2010

Guest Blogger - Kelly Gay

Hi Mayhem and Magic Readers! Thanks to Pamela and Terri for having me over to talk about Chilling Plots. When I wrote THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS I only had a few characters in my head, the world of Underground Atlanta, and the big decision my main character, Charlie Madigan, must make in the end. How I was going to get from beginning to that particular point, though, was unknown.

I didn’t plot Charlie’s escapades, but as the story progressed, certain scenes took shape or came to mind for later moments in the book. These I wrote down to save for the proper time, but for the most part I ‘pants’ it and let Charlie take me where she felt she needed to go. One step at a time.

One of the things, however, I did plot out was the antagonist’s goal. I needed to be very certain about what he was doing and why he was doing it.

In the beginning of the story, Charlie is a cop. She’s been one for a long time. But when we meet her, things are changing. She’s suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory when the crimes being committed start hitting close to home and start affecting her and her family in very personal and scary ways. I won’t deny I’ve gotten flack from a few folks who don’t buy or like the whole cop who then does un-coply things. And, if Charlie was dealing with a criminal plot that was within her usual working realm, I’d agree. It’d be totally out of character and not ring true for her to go off the grid and stop following protocol.

But, I specifically wanted to explore what would happen if a law enforcement officer suddenly found themselves having to defend their child and family against someone with wealth and political power. Would they stick to the letter of the law when it came to protecting their child? Or would they do whatever it took? Charlie, in the circumstances she found herself in, in the little time she had, did whatever it took. Doesn’t mean that has to be anyone else’s answer, but it was hers.

And yeah, she doesn’t have all the answers and she makes mistakes. She's not infallible. She is only human, after all. Strong emotions can make people think and do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. How many times do we tell ourselves one thing, yet do another? How many times do we internalize things and don’t reach out to others even though we know we probably should? Charlie doesn’t care how many years on the force she has under her belt, she’d give it all up to save her kid. Her child means more to her than her job, her life, the laws, etc… And once she knows this is personal, and this is where things are headed, she doesn’t want to drag others down with her.

I’m no expert, but as I try to identify what makes a chilling plot, I think this might be one aspect – to take your main character out of their comfort zone. To throw them into a situation/plot where they haven’t been before, make it hit close to home in some way so the emotional level is high, and see how they react. I don’t believe my plot would’ve been nearly as tense if I’d had Charlie dealing with her usual cases, or if I’d had her react to this new personal threat in the same way she always has in the past.

So when I think of really chilling plots, I think of putting my characters into new and unanticipated situations and I try to have them react in a human, relatable way. Sure, it’s easy to look back on something and say “this is how it should’ve been handled”. But as a reader, I’m not as interested characters that have all the answers, who don’t make mistakes, whose reactions are spotless. I want mine to mean well, to use what they have in their arsenal, and try their best to get themselves out of the situation I put them in. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’ll keep trying, keep writing, and keep doing my best just like those crazy characters swarming around in my head. 

8 comments:

  1. I like the idea of going outside the comfort zone. it feels more "real" to me. As does making mistakes. Let's face we in the "real" (non-fictional) world do it all the time.

    Terri

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  2. Very well put and yeah I like characters who are no perfect all the time as it makes for some interesting plot moments.

    Pamela

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  3. Thanks, ladies! It does make things interesting, and sometimes I feel bad for putting my heroine through the ringer like that... Okay, so not *that* bad. ;-)

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  4. Oh, and I totally forgot to put any links in my post, but if any readers would like to know more about Charlie or the books, you can find info on my website. www.kellygay.com

    :)

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  5. I heard someone--I can't remember who--say you have to put your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. I always liked that.

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  6. I loved that comment about rocks and trees.
    If your character is not out of their comfort zone it would be hard to see how they would measure up to the pressure that writers subject them to. I just finished "The Better Part of Darkness"(loved it!) and will post my review shortly.

    alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com
    http://lisaslovesbooksofcourse.blogspot.com/

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  7. That's what I liked about the story, it was a flawed human person who was protecting those she loved and would do what was necessary to do so.
    I tried to make your book my bedside book, but the two times I tried, my dreams went all whackadoo and kept waking up. Superb book and can't wait to read more of the story.

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  8. LOL, Anita! I love that!

    Yay! Thanks so much, Lisa; glad to hear you liked the book! :)

    Vickie -- Sorry about the crazy dreams, but that's also kind of cool in a way, LOL. :D Thanks for giving the book a read and for the nice words!

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