Deborah Jackson

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Characters Develop a Life of Their Own

Isn't it strange how characters sometimes begin one way and evolve into something quite different. Take my antagonist, Nadine, for example. She began as the cardboard villain, evil, selfish, with no apparent redeeming qualities whatsoever, but suddenly she took on a life of her own, quite different from Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf. I mean, she actually has a conscience. Not the typical conscience you or I have. She has no problem abducting children and throwing them into time machines. But she draws the line at murder, although being sufficiently threatening with a gun doesn't seem to bother her at all.

But Nadine has developed motives that are perhaps even superior to Matt's time meddling attempts at seeking justice. I'm not going to give them away, since you haven't read the third book yet, but it may surprise you. It certainly surprises Matt, not that he can ever forgive her for all the nasty things she has done to him over the years, particularly since he discovered the time machine.

Hence we have comments like: "Let's not get carried away," when Sarah suggests saving Nadine along with his father on their little Mars excursion even though he'd be leaving her in an unbreathable atmosphere, in freezing cold temperatures and hurricane-force winds, where the atmosphere is so thin her blood might boil, as Sarah points out. Or "Wouldn't mind if Nadine is, though," when Sarah says she hopes Dr. Barnes isn't eaten by a T-Rex. Or one of my favourites: Sarah is screaming in abject terror through a radio communicator after discovering ...(read about it in Mars Maze) and Matt asks, "Is it Nadine?"

No, he will never love Nadine. But he may come to understand her a little better, just as I've come to understand her a little better because she's become more like a regular person, with both positive and negative qualities, albeit the negative sometimes outweigh the positive. You may ponder, as I did, and Matt does in Time Meddlers on the Nile, "Could his father (Dr. Barnes) be the evil scientist and Nadine the 007 hero? Doesn't seem possible, but then, people can surprise you. It works that way with characters too.

Maybe she'll become so heroic and real that she'll walk right off the page one day and rescue you. Or maybe she'll trap you in an alternate universe. She does that to me all the time. But whatever she does, it's best to go with the flow. Once a character is living and breathing, you simply can't restrict them to predicable patterns. They're uncontrollable, and maybe it's better that way.

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