Playing God

“For me, a great character starts with a great name.”

You’d think after decades of writing that I’d have my process perfectly honed and locked down. But writing a novel-length work of fiction in a new genre continually forces me to develop different writing muscles. 

I think the hardest thing for me on this project has been creating entirely fictional characters. Normally, my characters are at least loosely based on people I know but that wouldn’t work for JEZILLA. I couldn’t shoehorn real people into the story; the characters had to fit the material.

For me, a great character starts with a great name. I think of a cool name or suggestive nickname and then picture the type of person it would fit. In JEZILLA, the protagonist Rocky is a pun on the movie character Rocky because she’s a fighter. Then I made her the physical opposite of Rocky — a petite girl. For Sanji, I conceived a somewhat nerdy character with the screen name ninja_guy (who obviously dreamed of being a real ninja) and then gave him a real name that was somewhat of a palindrome. I gave him exercise-induced asthma as an obstacle to that dream. It’s not a big one, I’ll admit, but I imagine it’s pretty hard to fight bad guys when your windpipe is seizing up. Mack was derived from a Mack truck and therefore a part of her is mechanical. For Sisko, I pictured a rock star or similar type of “sexy bad boy” and the name just popped into my head.

My second tool for character development is dialog. The interaction between the characters gives me insights into their deeper selves. And that’s how I had my latest epiphany about JEZILLA.

I’d just finished re-writing a scene that was important to the plot. I’d already re-written the thing a dozen times but it still felt forced and unnatural. Even worse, I was really starting to dislike my protagonist. Frankly, I was sick of her temper tantrums. Writing from her point of view was emotionally draining but I’d been writing her like that for over two years and this was the first time I’d had that feeling. What was going on?

I set the writing aside and just let the problem live in my head for a few days. It occurred to me that I was two-thirds of the way through writing the book. The time I’d spent with Rocky was cumulative, so things that might have seemed cute in the beginning were annoying as hell now. (Funny, it seems to work that way with real people too.)

I had a moment of panic. Had I created a bad character? No. She was just too one-dimensional. Rocky was all anger and id. What were her good points? And why would Sisko put up with her being such a bitch all the time?

20180126_134915Rocky needed more layers. So did her friends. I had to go back and expand earlier scenes, add introspection from Rocky, and possibly write a new scene or two. I also needed to give Sanji and Mack more agency. They were too passive. And Sisko needed a really compelling reason for being friends with Rocky in the past and putting up with her abuse in the present.

I ran through all of the scenes from JEZILLA in my head and noted opportunities for introducing more information about the characters. Then I filled a notebook with several pages of notes and I was back in business.