Friday, February 24, 2006

Outside of exchanging a few e-mails with Special Guest Editors, I have to admit that I did very little yesterday on the writing front. Too much day-job stress, I guess.

But I did jot some notes last night over wine and Jurassic Park, and I think I've worked out an important motivational point that will help define Bart, a major character whom I've had a tough time wrapping my head around. He needs to be in the book -- even though he's largely undefined, his presence is an important plot device on at least two levels -- but I just haven't been able to find his voice. Last night's breakthrough, though, makes him much more 'alive' in my head. Now I just have to translate that to the page.

Characters are like that sometimes. The most minor character can leap off the page if he or she is alive in your head. As a for-instance, one character my readers have strongly related to is the mystery writer Margaret Campbell (based in part on a real person, and using her real name) who played a secondary role in The Night We Met but had only a cameo in Trust Fund Boys. There is something about that character -- hard-edged, hard-drinking, unapologetically demanding and bossy -- that many readers seem to love. Margaret isn't a very nuanced character, but she's a distinct character. (So of course she's coming back in When the Stars Come Out for another small, but memorable, appearance.)

The dilemma of defining Bart's character is a tough one... largely because he's the white-bread All-American Boy prototype in a book full of characters with much more clearly-defined characteristics. For instance, the cast includes:

* Quinn Scott, the curmudgeonly and forcibly retired actor who is about to come out of the closet at age 72;

* Kitty Randolph, his actress ex-wife, who has morphed into a power-tripping Dragon Lady since their divorce;

* Noah Abraham, the slightly arrogant son of privilege (and borderline dilettante) who has to overcome cynicism in order to have faith in himself and others; and

* Jimmy Beloit, Quinn's perpetually sunny (and more than a little bit flamboyant) partner for more than 30 years, who reveals a steely determination in defense of Quinn and their relationship.

In those brief descriptions, you've probably already formed an image in your head of those characters. My job is to make them more than the stereotypes in your head.

But this is why turning loyal, good-looking, just-plain-decent Bart into a living, breathing person -- rather than a plot device -- is tough. If a stereotype pops into your head, it, too, is probably ill-defined... and certainly devoid of an interesting personality.

But, as I wrote earlier, I think I've found the key to Bart in his back-story. Because in a Rob Byrnes novel -- much as in a Rob Byrnes life -- blandness is not an option.