Monday, November 5, 2018

Voices in my Head (#amwriting)

I have written approximately 70% of a new novel. It uses a few characters from my published novels and has a bunch of new folks. I’ve mentioned that I write without an outline or even a firm ending. (I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants.) Before I start the first draft, I have a clear idea of an inciting incident: the thing that lets the protagonist (or at least the reader) know the ordinary world is about to change. And I think I know who the protagonist will be.

I say I think because, although rare, sometimes another character throws a fact-filled, emotionally powerful tantrum and convinces me that they need to steal the story. The last time that happened, I killed the original protagonist. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Much of the arguing between characters revolves around who gets to be the bad guy(s). One might think characters want to put on their best face, be the protagonist’s best buddy, or mentor, or occasionally not-quite-center-of-the-road sidekick. And these potentially helpful people do jockey for position. But when it comes to BAD . . . let me digress to make the point.

I have sold many character names at charity auctions. Only once did an auction winner ask me to use their purchased name for a nice character (and that individual bought the name as a gift for a friend). A couple of winners expressed no opinion. Most wanted to be bad. We all have a dark side. And If we can experience it risk free, many of us jump at the chance.

Most of my characters approach the casting couch with little regard for their long-term welfare. It’s all about ME right NOW. Issues such as the future years that character might spend in jail, the increased probability of dying an early, violent death, the fact that their better nature is hidden, are not my characters’ concerns when the prospect of a bigger role in the story is up for grabs.

My new novel includes three brothers. One of them will be the primary bad guy. The oldest brother keeps arguing for primogenitary succession. Dear old dad was not all sugar and spice, and the next generation takes it several steps farther. As first born, he is the natural leader of the pack. Second son argues that being stuck in the middle causes him to have the most repressed anger at parents and siblings. The youngest maintains he has put on a facade of sweetness and light for forty years. Now his darker nature is in full revolt.

They all make such good cases, I’ve taken to referring to the villain in the WIP as “The Grandmaster.” It’s a reference to a high level of expertise in the game of chess that requires strategic long-range thinking. Each brother has embraced the name and is bending their nature to make it fit.

One of the fun aspects of being a pantser is letting these guys battle it out, not knowing who will win. I remember when I wrote Bad Policy (Seamus McCree #2), I was sure I knew who had done it. All the clues pointed to a certain individual until I realized that character was a puppet for the real evil person of the story. Now that was a fun discovery.

With 30% of this book still to write, anything could happen. Maybe I’ll let you know how it turns out. More likely I’ll sit at my desk and chortle and make you read the book to find out which brother (s?) did what.
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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at

This blog was first posted in the Writers Who Kill blog.

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