Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: NOT New Castle, Delaware where Wendy is busy with her brand-new first grandchild. (She will be back posting tomorrow.)
This week Wendy has been taking us through the heroic journey, likening novel writing and publishing to a grand endeavor. I’ve followed her posts and plotted my own course in parallel, but today I’d like to turn our attention to the surprise: a character who springs up in the middle of the story, or the quest, to ease some of the mounting tension.
In Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, Taran begins his journey to manhood with an uninspiring cast: a runaway pig and a broken-down troubadour toting a harp with a mind all its own. The first night out, their food stores are pick-pocketed by a character without a pocket: the hairy, leaf-covered Gurgi. His malapropisms and misplaced enthusiasm–but always loyal character–give the reader a pause of humor amidst the trials of the quest.
The hobbits Merry and Pippin serve a similar role in Lord of the Rings. The maid in Romeo and Juliet; Sancho Panza to Don Quixote; Prissy, the slave who doesn’t know about birthin’ babies in Gone with the Wind–they’re there, and the reader appreciates it when they arrive.
But how do you plan and plot for such a twist?
Madeleine L’Engle talked about writing her novel, The Arm of the Starfish, and finding a new character two-thirds of the way through the book: Joshua Archer. L’Engle was just as surprised to see him as Adam and the rest of the cast. His sudden arrival meant she had to rethink part of the novel, but as she wrote “towards” this mysterious new character, she discovered he actually was the moral heart of the story. L’Engle may not have planned for him, but she needed him.
In my own case, I wrote a novel several years ago and was shocked in the same way. I looked at my husband and said, “A chicken just showed up.”
My husband shrugged. “So get rid of it.”
He’s not a writer.
I spent three days researching chickens, continued writing with the chicken character in the background, and one day that chicken lunged–beak wide open–and changed the entire tenor of the novel in ways I never would have guessed.
Heroes can’t finish the quest alone. And neither, apparently, can writers.
Can you think of other examples of surprise characters who aid the hero in unexpected ways? Do they have to be funny? And do you have stories of when your subconscious surprised your writing journey?