Shifting characters

So often in writing, I find, and not just in the exploratory/first draft, I have to write the wrong things in order to get to the right things.

I’m thinking now about the … not the exploratory draft, but the second draft, actually, of Faerie Winter. There’s a journey (as there often is in my books), and two new characters go along on this journey, a pair of brothers. (Let’s call them A1 and A2, to make it easy.)

I liked A1 and A2 well enough. Yet through the whole draft, I was a little uneasy. Because there were these two other characters (I’ll call them, predictably, B1 and B2), who weren’t related and who weren’t on the journey–even though I felt like they were two of the most interesting characters in the book. More interesting, I realized after a while, than A1 and A2 were.

So I had to keep reminding myself: B1 and B2 have good reasons to be staying home. And this isn’t really their story anyway.

Except, of course, I was wrong.

By the end of the draft I’d figured out what of course seems obvious now: if two of the most interesting new characters in your book are off-stage for nearly the entire novel, and you find you regret leaving them behind and that you can’t stop thinking about them–it’s time to restructure your novel.

So finally, when I started my third draft, I took all the reasons B1 had for staying home–mostly they had to do with a bunch of younger siblings he had to take care of–and gave all those younger siblings to A1 instead. A2 either went away entirely, or quietly blended in, silent and unnamed, with all those other siblings.

And B2 became B1’s little brother–an easy change, one that feels completely right to me now, though they’d been unrelated before. Making B1 and B2 brothers actually added things to both their characters. And B2 already had plenty of reason to want to leave his town–which gave B1 reason enough to follow his now-little brother. As a bonus, following his brother made B1 a little more complex and sympathetic, balancing the reasons the reader (or Liza, anyway) has not to entirely like him, at first.

In the end, the overall structure of the story didn’t change all that much. (Not nearly so much as it changed between the first and second drafts, which were pretty much completely different stories.) B1 and B2 did have different sorts of magic than A1 and A2, but these new magics actually dovetailed better with the story than the original ones, too. And–this is kind of fascinating to me–A1 actually became a little more interesting, too, now that we saw just a few glimpses of him, in a different context.

By now, of course, it’s hard for me to imagine the story any other way. But it’s kind of fascinating, to look back and remember the ways in which it was once very different.

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