A topic of discussion was brought up by one random soul in the vast swarm of tweeting romanciers earlier this month. It concerned the relationships (or if the case may be, lack thereof) that our hero(in)es have with their parents. An important question to consider when developing any and all major characters for works of fiction, methinks. Regardless of what the writer initially believes about that relationship’s relevance to the plot. Whatever input a young mind is fed during the formative years of their development would tend to have a lasting influence on shaping certain qualities and attributes of that mind, for either good or bad. Disposition. Approach to problem-solving. General outlook on life. That sort of thing. At least some of that input comes from the parents, but almost never all of it.
The question was open-ended, so I went with it. The website plug was something I tacked on at the end, because I just happened to have the link in my clipboard.
Hey, it’s a new decade. Thank the Dagda. The Weenie Teenies (which I personally think is a catchier and more befitting name than the Two Thousand and Tens, so I’m just going to go with that) will probably go down in history as the worst decade humanity has seen since the 1940s. So I’m glad that’s all over with. Sure, it was a decade that saw vinyl LPs come back from the dead. That was the shit! But then there was a shitload of other shit that was as shitty as all shit. Hopefully this new decade will bring more shit that’s cool, like the aforementioned second coming of the long-playing record. May these Twenties be twenty percent as roaring as the last ones, so they don’t end as badly.
If this reminds you of someone, you’re officially not going crazy.
In this spirit of dispensing with the old and embracing the new, I’ve decided to prune a couple of characters out of SILVER BROWN entirely. There was a scene in one of the early drafts where my main character wakes up in the offices of one of the most powerful cyberwarlocks in Sector India. There, the witch Florys MacNab is approached by this warlock’s man Friday – an eight-year-old boy known only as The Kid.
The Kid grew from an intellectual seed that was planted in my brain by an Ojibwe elder from an ancient land we now call Minnesota, by way of a book he wrote I once burrowed from the library. He would tell me of a forgotten yesteryear well before there was any such thing as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, when the Ojibwe did not bestow names upon their children at birth. In those days, it was an ingrained part of the culture and tradition that a name be thought of as something one had to earn. Many kids didn’t earn those names until they were eight or nine years old. Some not even until puberty, or later. But finally doing something to earn a name was one of the most important rites of passage in a child’s life.
A few of the customs observed by the Society of Wheel Turners in SILVER BROWN invoke this bygone Ojibwe tradition to a certain extent. In the early drafts, young Wheel Turners in training were literally nameless. Hence, the reason why The Kid was just The Kid, and nothing else. I eventually had to dispense with The Kid entirely, because his sole function in the story was to reveal exhibition that had already been revealed. But the tradition he embodied lives on, albeit in a modified form. In the current draft, children born into the Society receive a totem from their council of directors when they pass a strenuous series of cybermagickal aptitude tests. The warlock of Sector India I mentioned earlier is known solely by his totem. His legal name is the one registered with SAAZMOL, which is why he doesn’t use it. He is instead addressed by his contemporaries as Lord Pukerabbit. There’s a whole explanation of the hidden meaning behind that appellation, but I won’t get into that here and now.
There was another character I had to get rid of when he ultimately proved superfluous. A utility program called Dunsmure the Bird, inspired by watching too many videos on YouTube like this:
I initially threw Dunsmure the Bird in the story to serve as a sidekick for Elmýr Garfield. In later drafts, Elmýr Garfield would gain the ability to shapeshift, his new powers reducing Dunsmure the Bird to a Jar Jar Binks – an unnecessary character that could easily be removed from the story without the story suffering any, and in fact should be removed. The bird’s jarjarbinksiness wasn’t the only reason I got rid of him, though. There’s already a character in the story who’s a talking ferret; I figured throwing in a talking bird on top of that would be laying it on a tad too thick.
In many a blog post of yesterweek, I’ve mentioned Act One of SILVER BROWN is pretty much complete. I’m not ruling out the possibility that it still might undergo a few more nips, tucks and organ transplants, but at least it’s at a point where I’m more or less satisfied with it. Acts Two and Three are both in an early-to-intermediate stage of their development. Like literary vestigial limbs. They will surely evolve into glorious eldritch tentacles dripping with digestive sucker juices and territorial musk, but for now they’re just stumps. Act Two is a little bit more than a stump, though. It’s the one I’m presently editing.
These chapters have something of a different feel to them compared to Act One. Act One details a critical moment in Florys MacNab’s career as a witch, and most of the supporting characters are other witches. Act Two sees Florys venture out into worlds beyond the Sisterhood to learn a host of horrifying cryptic truths her Lodge has hitherto kept from her. The supporting cast has almost completely changed. Characters that were only mentioned in passing or casually alluded to in Act One become much more prominent in Act Two. This blog post will focus on one of those characters in particular. Kent Fairholt’s trusty sidekick, the utility program Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner.
It was established from the earliest drafts that Sherman can and does speak. His function within the narrative is as a voice of reason. A foil and counterpart for Kent Fairholt, frequently correcting him when he’s wrong. Kent’s conscience, personified. Or more accurately, mustelified. When Sherman speaks, Kent is the only human who can understand him. To Florys and other humans, Sherman’s utterances just sound like a series of clucks, squawks and chirrups. Hence, Sherman’s brainy sayings (at least the ones relevant to the plot) must necessarily be translated and interpreted for Florys (and ultimately the audience) by his significantly less brainy friend. The results may vary.
Throughout the editing process, I experimented with several different approaches trying to find the best way to represent Sherman’s utterances in the text. The earlier stages of the book’s evolution would feature Florys including phrases like “the ferret clucked and squawked” or “the ferret clucked and squawked some more” in her narration of the story (she seldom refers to Sherman by name, mostly out of disdain for Kent). The result was that Sherman came across like a one-dimensional character, saying the same old shit over and over again. After about the fifth time the ferret clucked and squawked, he started to get on my nerves. So in order to make him less Jar Jar Binksy, I found it necessary to expand his vocabulary a bit. That, and to present more of his lines of dialogue in an onomatopoeic manner as opposed to giving verbal descriptions of his utterances – a cue I probably took from the fight scenes in that old Batman series from the Sixties starring the late great Adam West…
His vocabulary would be expanded further still when Our Lady of 420 whispered in my ear one morning and casually suggested that he ought to be equipped with a vast internal library of sound effects. An idea completely compatible with the nature of the character and the premise of the book.
Sherman looks like a ferret and is frequently referred to as such by Florys, but beyond superficial appearances there is nothing ferrety about him. He’s actually a musteline utility program running within the Environment. An artificial intelligence, in other words. Like a walking Siri with fur. Hence, having a library of sound effects tucked away somewhere in his brain wouldn’t disrupt the suspension of disbelief too much. The sound effects come into play when Sherman is trying to accentuate a point he’s trying to make to Kent, using them almost like auditory emojis. Any selections from the library that take more than one word to convey are given in parentheses in the text. I think I recall J.K. Rowling using a similar technique a few times in the Harry Potter series, although I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head specifically in which chapters of which books.
Squawk! Roar, meow. Bark! (Screech of an eagle). Chirrup, cluck-cluck (something that vaguely sounded like a dump truck backing up). Coo, squeak.