It Is and Is Not Calder

When I realized that my main character is basically Schrödinger’s cat on a large scale.

mind-blown

(And here’s a bonus, thanks Exploding Kittens.)

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Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Meet Calder #2

Calder 2In my massive rewrite of The Narrator, I’ve just passed the midpoint. I was pretty worried about the scene, and kept putting it off and putting it off. But when I finally dove in, it was actually pretty fun.

And I owe it all to Calder #2.

There are two Calders in Narrator: the original, and the one the Narrator tried to make by changing his backstory. At the midpoint, the second Calder manifests (because of an enchanted forest) and the two Calders have a bit of a chat.

And that second Calder was a treat to “work with.” He was very talkative and came up with some great stuff, all without really trying.

(I know that to non-writers this kind of talk sounds crazy, but characters usually take on a life of their own. They can be complete chatterboxes, like Calder #2, or they can refuse to give up any information on themselves and frustrate the crap out of you.)

So this scene was going better than I expected, but still with a lot of false starts and backtracking. And suddenly Calder #2 was dragging his feet, and refusing to cooperate, and giving me a really crappy performance — until I put back some paragraphs I had removed. Once they were back in place, he was more than happy to talk again.

Things slowed down again as we neared the end of the scene, because Calder #2 knew this was going to be his only scene, and he was reluctant to “leave.” I could tell he was trying to stretch out his time. I felt bad for him, too, since he was (for the most part) so great to work with. But alas, I don’t think I’ll be able to justify bringing him back.

Even if it would be fun.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The Two Calders

Prince Calder, ready to go on an interesting adventure.I’ve been re-watching the first few seasons of Murdoch Mysteries lately. It’s set in Victorian Toronto, with a detective who uses cutting-edge science to solve crimes. Of course, a lot of that science is commonplace today, including x-rays, ballistics, and recreating the likeness of a person from their skull. Murdoch’s interest also extends to the social sciences like psychology. I just passed one of my favorite episodes, where the suspect has Dissociative Identity Disorder — and it reminded me of Calder.

No, he doesn’t have DID. A person with DID has two or more distinct identities (or personalities). In the show, Murdoch and the doctor he consults observe that the suspect’s identities are vying for control, and she switches back and forth. One minute she’s a meek young lady, the next a confident, angry woman.

Calder, on the other hand, has two identities that are hardly distinct. They’re more like two lives that he lived simultaneously. One life is that of a Crown Prince, the life as it was supposed to be. The other life is that of a younger son. These two identities also vie for control, but it’s much more subtle. (I love my subtleties.)

In fact, it sounds pretty similar to what WebMD lists as an effect of having DID:

Identity confusion or identity alteration. Both of these involve a sense of confusion about who a person is. An example of identity confusion is when a person has trouble defining the things that interest them in life, or their political or religious or social viewpoints, or their sexual orientation, or their professional ambitions.(emphasis added)

Each Calder has his strengths and weaknesses, in addition to his own memories. But as the novel progresses, the lines begin to blur until Calder has trouble knowing which is which.

Disclaimer: I have not studied psychology. I did not throw much research into this. I just made a cool connection while watching a tv show and wanted to share. 🙂


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Do Characters Have Secret Lives?

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Sylvia: Wait, Austen meant Charlotte to be gay, or Charlotte is gay and Austen is not aware of it.

Bernadette: I just love the idea of a character having a secret life that the author doesn’t even know about.

 

Thinking about Jane Austen Book Club the other day, I remembered this scene. One of the characters thinks Charlotte Lucas, from the ever popular Pride and Prejudice, is gay because she tells Lizzy that she’s not as “romantic” as she is. Obviously, this raises some questions.

Can characters have secret lives separate from their authors’ wishes and intents? I know many fanfiction writers believe so. Just look at the number of Harry/Draco fics that exist.

But I’m not talking about Alternate Universe scenarios, or wishful thinking. If a character’s secret life fits within the context of the original novel, does that mean it could exist? That it does exist? Or is the text itself the final word?

And even if it is possible, is it right to usurp the author (especially when they can no longer defend their work, like Austen) by deciding for them if a character has a secret life?

I think it’s an interesting idea to have characters hiding things from their authors, though I’m not sure how I would feel if I were to find out ten years from now that Pennington is Saydie’s father or whatever. That would definitely put a new light on their relationship.

I put these questions to you. Do you think characters have secret lives?


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Meet The Narrator’s Prince Calder

CalderI’ve been tagged for the Meet My Character Blog Hop by Juneta Key, who’s working on Guardians of the Seals – Apocalypse, Signed, Sealed, and Delivered. It’s a novella about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and looks pretty interesting. I “met” Juneta through Holly Lisle’s writing classes — if you’re a writer, I can’t recommend them enough!

For this blog hop, I’m introducing you to the protagonist of The Narrator: Prince Calder.

What is the name of your character? Is he fictional or a historical person?
Prince Calder is definitely a fictional person. He’s the main character of both The Narrator and the Narrator’s book.

When and where is the story set?
The story is set in a book, but that book is set in the kingdom of Anwingda. It’s your classic medieval fantasy setting.

What should we know about him?
Calder starts off as your typical knight in shining armor. He wants to be the hero, to save the damsel in distress from certain destruction. Not for fame or riches, just for the sake of doing good. He also strongly believes in fate, and doesn’t like people interfering with it. At the beginning of the story, an old woman tells him that it is his destiny to save the princess of Faraday Castle.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
When Calder sets out to rescue the princess, the narrator of the book intercepts him. He tells Calder to turn back, that he won’t narrate such a cliche story as a prince rescuing a princess. When Calder refuses, the narrator literally rewrites his life. Calder’s no longer the Crown Prince of Anwingda, but the youngest of three sons.

What is the personal goal of the character?
After his run-in with the narrator, Calder has to find a way to both return to his previous life and rescue the princess despite the narrator’s interference.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
You can read more about The Narrator on my dedicated page.

When can we expect the book to be published?
I’m still revising, and then I want to send it out to agents to see if I can get it traditionally published. But let’s dream big. Let’s say next year.

Blurb:
Crown Prince Calder departs the kingdom to rescue a princess from her classically evil captors. He expects dangers, but there is one thing he does not expect: his story’s narrator.

Refusing to narrate even one more boring quest plot, Pennington materializes and orders Calder to ignore the kidnapped princess. He will create a more engaging story, one that a truly great narrator deserves. Calder doesn’t believe his claim to be the narrator and, determined to be a hero, refuses.

Then Pennington completely rewrites Calder’s backstory. Suddenly Crown Prince Calder…isn’t. He is now a younger son, and has lost his inheritance and the confidence that he is a real person in one sentence. Calder’s story is no longer as straightforward as he thinks. Does the princess still need to be rescued? Can he get his life back as the crown prince? If he continues to defy Pennington, will he even recognize himself?

Losing his sense of identity and reality, he clings to his quest, determined – at all costs – to beat the narrator and end his story, his way.

Now, hop on over to my friend Jennifer Loizeaux’s site. You can meet one of the characters of her upcoming mystery, Flight Risk, when she posts next week.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The “Saving People Thing”

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When planning my Beauty and the Beast story, I was thinking about fatal flaws for my characters. For inspiration, I checked out what TVtropes had to say on the subject. And I realized that most of my main characters share a fatal flaw: personal loyalty.

Or, as Hermione calls it, a “saving people thing.” Harry would go to any lengths to save his friends, even if it meant not saving the world. He gets in massive trouble in Order of the Phoenix, when Voldemort takes advantage of his “saving people thing” to lure him to the Ministry of Magic. And, spoiler alert, Sirius dies for it.

The flaw of personal loyalty must really speak to me, because I never realized that this was a trait my characters shared. My Beauty and the Beast character would do anything for her friends. My suspense protagonist would do anything for her sister.

But this trait is closest to an actual flaw in the main character of my upcoming novel, The Narrator. Prince Calder has a “saving people thing,” same as Harry. He’ll move the world to save his friends. But he also fights to save anyone in trouble, from princesses to minstrels.

And, of course, the narrator is able to manipulate him as easily as Voldemort manipulated Harry.

Yeah. You should be nervous.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

1984, Big Brother, and Narrator

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With a member of my writing group submitting a novel based on 1984, I thought it was a good time to read the original. It’s been on my To Read list for years, but never a high priority.

I started reading, and was immediately struck by the similarities between 1984 and my novel-in-progress, The Narrator. There are clear parallels between Big Brother and my eponymous antagonist, and between Winston and my protagonist. Who knew?

It was inevitable, I suppose. 1984 explores a theme that crops up in most of my own work: the line between fantasy and reality.

If you’re not familiar with the book, Big Brother constantly alters records to bring them in line with the present. If they’re allied with one country against another, then that’s how it’s always been. If they make a prediction and it doesn’t come true, the predictions are altered to match what really happened. People can be “vanished,” or killed and erased from every record. With the past and present always under revision, Winston has trouble keeping everything straight.

Similarly, the narrator re-writes my protagonist’s history, and he has trouble recognizing which events go with which timeline. He has brothers in one timeline, but otherwise they’re similar enough that he can’t differentiate. Add the fact that the narrator told him he’s a fictional character, and you have a real mess. Which parts of his world are real, and which are the narrator’s creation?

Which life is his real life? Or does he not have a real life at all?


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The Smiling Villain

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“That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” — Hamlet

I’ve always had a soft spot for the smiling villains. The ones who are charming and funny and everyone’s best friend — everyone except the hero of course. It’s one thing to fight the Big Bad that is universally declared True Evil, but it’s a completely different war when faced with the smiling villains.

Claudius is, of course, a perfect example. He was probably a charmer before murdering his brother (unlike Lion King’s Scar), so the court’s attitude toward him probably didn’t change. He did manage to win over Gertrude fairly quickly though. Hamlet is the only one in the entire court to find him suspicious, and voicing his displeasure makes him seem like a resentful, spoiled brat who hates his uncle/step-father on principle. Which only gets worse when he pretends to go mad. Nobody believes him except his best friend Horatio, and even that’s tenuous at best.

Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet faces a similar problem with Duke Roger, a powerful sorcerer and cousin to the prince. Everyone loves Roger. They trust him, confide in him, rely on him to protect his extended family. And because everyone implicitly trusts him, Alanna can’t reveal her suspicions to the prince. With only two allies who believe her, she has to stand up to Roger without attracting attention, without drawing the anger of her friends at court.

In both cases, the hero has to fight sneakily. You can’t draw swords with the Big Bad when everyone else thinks they’re the Big Good. The heroes have virtually no support in opposing the villain. If they let their suspicions slip they’re in danger of being attacked by people who should be allies.

And that conflict is amazing.

I haven’t created a smiling villain yet for my upcoming series, but I think it would be great fun to play with. Now to find a good fit…


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.