Today, I have a new short story out at Tor.com, under the D.B. Jackson pseudonym. The story is called “The Price of Doing Business.” It’s set in the Thieftaker world and it tells the story of Ethan Kaille’s first encounter with Sephira Pryce, who later becomes his rival and nemesis. The artwork is by the marvelous Chris McGrath, who also has done the jacket art for the Thieftaker books. [Update, 2/19/2014, 10:00 CST: The story is now live on the Tor.com site and can be found here. And here’s the updated artwork as well; I wasn’t sure which image they would use. I actually like this second one better.]
Last week we talked about plotting here at MW. This week, starting with Di’s post on Monday, and continuing with Chloe Neill’s post yesterday, we are talking about character. And so the release of this short story comes at a perfect time.
Chloe said something in yesterday’s post that struck me as appropriate for my story. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “creating a character isn’t about deciding who she is, but who she isn’t.” This in the context of discussing how we keep characters fresh.
Ethan Kaille is the protagonist and point of view character for all of the Thieftaker books and stories. He has many people in his life: a romantic interest, friends, enemies, a former love, family members from whom he is estranged. But by far the most formative relationship in the series is the one he shares with Sephira. Because she, more than anyone else, defines who he is by making crystal clear who he is not. And that was how I conceived the character — she was meant to be his foil from the beginning.
Where Ethan is honest, she is corrupt; where he is a loner and an outcast, she has a retinue of toughs at her beck and call, is tied into Boston’s Tory society, and wields enormous influence throughout the city. He is older; he walks with a pronounced limp, and has started to gray. She is young, beautiful, alluring. He can conjure, she cannot, which is the one advantage he has over her in their dangerous struggle for power and supremacy.
They are at once fascinated and repulsed by each other. Their interactions are fraught with bitter enmity, grudging mutual respect, and an underlying sexual tension that both would deny exists. In short, their relationship forms the dynamic core of every Thieftaker storyline.
Part of what Chloe was getting at in her post, and the point I am circling in this one, is that we create characters to do more than just fill in places in our plot lines. In real life, the people with whom we interact are different from us in some ways and similar in others. When we find a friendship with someone who is our polar opposite — or, alternately, our intellectual and emotional doppelgänger — it is something noteworthy and unusual. In fiction, though, we can use this as a device; this is one of those instances in which fiction diverges from fact. Creating this sort of ying/yang dichotomy between characters, brings both into stark relief. Pitting those two characters against each other (or, perhaps, building a romance between them) makes for fascinating reading and fun writing.
I started “The Price of Doing Business” nearly two years ago, in between the writing of the first and second Thieftaker books. I knew that I wanted to do more with their rivalry in the second novel; I knew that I wanted to complicate it, make them beholden to each other in unexpected ways, perhaps even confuse their animosity with a brief moment of common purpose. And in order to do that, I needed to know more about the origins of their relationship, such as it was. Put another way, I followed my own advice, the advice I have offered here on MW so many times before: I used a piece of short fiction to learn more about my characters, and along the way, I managed to get a short story sale out of it.
Writing the story didn’t necessarily tell me much about the two characters that I didn’t already know. But it allowed me to visualize their first meeting, to witness for myself the roots of their subsequent interactions, and to establish in my own mind which patterns in their relationship were too fixed to change, and which ones I could bend in later stories and books.
So, I hope that you will head over to Tor.com and check out my new short story. I hope that you will follow the same advice I have followed and use a short story or two as tools to help you hone existing and as-yet-undiscovered characters in your current projects. And I hope that you will join in this week’s discussion of character.
Do you have characters you have tried to make into opposites, as I’ve done with Ethan and Sephira? Do you have characters you have tried to make similar to one another, but with one or two key differences? In what other ways have you used one character to help define another?David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com