Character Dynamics in “The Road To Mars”

The Road To Mars follows, for the most part, a trio of characters (trying to be #SPOILERfree here). There’s Darion, my protagonist; Jack, the “thief”; and the Shepherd, my larger-than-life visitor from Mars. Each has his own agenda. Each is searching for something. And each may or may not take issue with someone in the group; unbeknownst to that person.

I know because I wrote it that way.

When I began fleshing out The Road To Mars, I envisioned it like a really bad family vacation. Nobody likes going somewhere – especially far away – with someone they don’t like. Or someone they’re not too familiar with. The Road To Mars is all about unfamiliar travel. Mars, by itself, is already an unknown landscape. But, in my story, it’s a haven. An escape. A place Darion wants to be. He wants out of the mess the Earth is in. The Pulse has damaged Earth with clouds that sap light and energy. The Earth, as far as Darion is concerned, is a lost cause. So he’s trying hard to leave it behind and get to Mars. Not just for himself, but for his daughter as well.

Jack, on the other hand, is more like a baby bird fallen from its nest. He’s survived the fall – survived the Pulse – but now he’s alone. Nobody is looking out for him. Until he meets Darion. And then, ultimately, the Shepherd of Mars. Jack has had little direction in life. He’s a got a bad seed in him, you might say. But, meeting Darion has given him direction. And the Shepherd has given him hope. Two things he’d never had before; and important to any person.

As for the Shepherd, his mere existence defies logic. He’s huge – more than seven feet tall. He’s built like an Olympic gymnast and speaks like he’s lived 10 lifetimes. Yet, all that power and wisdom is a cause for concern. Even for Darion, whose entire journey has been about finding said Shepherd. No man can be all these things in one. There must be a catch or something hidden. But, Darion – and Jack – are willing to see whatever that is till the end.

What I’ve just told you is incredibly important to any story: character dynamics. As much as I like the mythology in The Lord of the Rings and the universe where Harry Potter resides, I know neither of these stories would be worth their weight in salt if it weren’t for the characters. Where they come from. How they interact. Who they are driven to be next to. Or be in conflict with – all are imperative. For the characters push the plot. Push the agenda. And keep your audience interested till the end (Writer’s Digest has a good tutorial on this very topic).

For The Road To Mars I wanted to get this as right as possible. Each of my characters needed to feel natural. Needed to have predictable behaviors, yet be thrown into unpredictable circumstances. For it’s the unusual scenarios where development happens. Characters become more than a name on a page – they become (almost) like real people. Someone you or I can relate to. It’s key to telling any good story. And it’s key to transforming a book from I-read-five-chapters-now-I’m-done to, “Hey, when does the next one come out?”

I, for one, prefer the latter.

Holiday Reading: The Screwtape Letters and Blood Meridian

I’ve been busy reading both of these books during the holidays; Blood Meridian for much longer than The Screwtape Letters. The former is written by a man who may be better known for his story, The Road (McCarthy). The latter is a literary hero of mine (Lewis). And both are powerful wordsmiths. For example, some of his (Lewis’) sentences can be as long as a whole paragraph, if not as long as the page itself – complete with semicolons, hyphens, and multiple commas for good measure. And McCarthy can be just as lengthy, capturing the imagery of a sunset on an entire page and then casually jumping ahead three days in the next paragraph.

Basically, you have to be paying close attention when reading these guys. Otherwise, you’re bound to get lost somewhere.

If you know nothing of C.S. Lewis, it’s like this: asking for a small order of fries, but instead getting six pounds of ribs. At first, most people would be happy about the surprise, but would soon find themselves overwhelmed by what they’ve undertaken. And, if they’re feeling that way, they walk away before the meal is finished. That’s how I felt the first time I read something by Mr. Lewis – overwhelmed. But, I soldiered on and found Lewis’ works to be as engaging as they are difficult to understand, at times. Nowadays, I expect ribs; not fries. As for Mr. McCarthy, his style can be frustrating too, but I’d compare it to finishing a final exam. It may take you a couple hours, but if you stayed focused throughout, you’ll feel good about the result.

As for the reads themselves, Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a dark tale about a demon, Screwtape, writing letters to his nephew – Wormwood, who is also a demon – about how to properly kill a man’s soul. Yikes, right? And McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is a fictional tale set in the old west – filled with plenty of violence, gore, and paces itself in a less apologetic manner than any John Wayne movie you’ve ever seen. Indeed, my holiday reading hasn’t been for the light of heart.

But hey, that’s okay. I’m not trying to kill the holiday spirit by reading dark or evil tales – I’m just doing some much needed weightlifting; specifically for my brain. I remember having to read books in high school that I hated; for instance, The Scarlet Letter. God bless the soul who likes The Scarlet Letter. I understand it’s been regarded as a classic, but to me, it’s just boring. As an adult, I can’t bring myself to read it again. However, I can bring myself to appreciate its word choice, its context, and its large vocabulary. And as a writer, I can challenge myself to read something for that very reason: to enhance my overall knowledge of words and ultimately, become better versed in how to use them.

When I first started writing stories, I found myself emulating the author I was reading the most. If I was reading something by Hans Christian Andersen, I’d shadow his work in a similar fashion. The same thing happened when I was reading Tolkien, Frank Herbert, or Stephen King. Essentially, what I was taking in, I was pushing out. This was good, at first, but I stopped this pursuit once I felt I had a “handle” on what I needed. That was the wrong choice. Like, applying for college when you’re still in the eighth grade – you can’t expect to do calculus well without first taking pre-calculus. A lot of aspiring writers tend to miss this, myself included. They jump into the deep end with an idea yet have nothing to draw from other than popular cliches or a list of their favorite phrases, often recycled or paraphrased from that favorite story. “They were frozen with fear”; or “They’d never seen anything like it.” Not. Good. Writing. I’ve found it’s better to diversify one’s literary vault than to squeeze it tight. If you’re writing historical fiction, then read lots of historical fiction. Find the buzzwords. Find what works; find what doesn’t. Then you can move forward.

At which point, you get to enjoy the fun part: finding your own style and voice. Only this time, you have a plethora of new toys (words) at your disposal. You’ll face less odds of sounding foolish to your readers and more like someone who has done their homework. A better place to find one’s self in and a better way to become less reliant on just one story.

Thoughts on “Spirit Run” – halfway home

Writing this story has taken a lot out of me. And in other regards, it hasn’t. When you work tirelessly at your job, you may find yourself using the expression “time just flew by”. And when you stop what you’re doing, you’re amazed at what you’ve done and amazed at the time it took to do it. That’s how it’s felt with this story. I would open up my computer, plug into a Word document, and away I’d go. It was a very natural process. One that I could literally sit for hours and not step away from or be distracted by something else. The words wrote themselves and I was merely a conduit for their journey from my mind to my computer mainframe.

That’s a great feeling when you’re a writer, but it can also drain you. Before I sit down to write something, I usually develop some plan of attack. Be it reviewing my notes from days prior, continuing right where I left off, or just saying a simple prayer – I have to have an idea of what I’m going to do. But when the idea takes flight and time passes without warning, I come to the end of a story feeling like I’ve just built a house. From scratch. Writing can be an exhaustive process if you aren’t taking time to take a breather. I’ve been rather ruthless in my pursuit to write a new story every 30 days for the past 6 months and by all accounts, that hard work is beginning to pay off. I have plenty to talk about and I have plenty to share. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m also worn out. Not from procrastination, but from massive amounts of idea dumping. As I said before, it’s a good feeling to just let the story “write itself”, but I have to be a willing participant in that process. I still have to take the time to make that happen. And that takes lots and lots of time. Time that literally “flies by” if I’m not aware of it – all the while requesting my utmost attention and focus for the duration.

This story, along with so many others, took time. As will any other story I decide to undertake and share with others. I cringe when I think about the overwhelming scale of these projects, but still, I knowingly accept them with open arms. Just need a little faith to keep things in perspective. And if I may use a potentially poor transition piece here – faith has been a huge part of this story, Spirit Run. When you paint a picture of angels coming to save the soul of a human being – such as what’s happening in this section – you are indeed asking for a little help yourself.

Halfway through this story though. And halfway into the next one, I’m sure.