As far as I’m concerned, anyone who always behaves exactly as expected is a construct and not a character, literary or otherwise. That’s because living, breathing people—and your characters should certainly come across that way to the reader—are unscripted. They’ll frequently frustrate and surprise you. In that way, my characters are to me just like people, family particularly, because no one else gets under the skin in quite the same way.
The reason I’m a pantser rather than a plotter is that by the time I come to the end of a scene or a chapter, I’ve frequently learned something I didn’t know when I sat down to write. Sometimes it’s a bit of background on the character, something he or she has suddenly revealed to me (yes, writing often feels to me more like discovery than creation). Sometimes it a dogleg in the action, because I thought one of my people would respond a certain way only to find out that I was wrong, and the direction chosen changes everything. Oh, I always have an idea where I’m going with a book. I know point A and sometimes LMN, often Z. But the points between…well, they’re not generally as straightforward as the alphabetical analogy would have you think.
In fact, I think that’s why writing appeals to me so much—that sense of discovery as I go. Every novel is an adventure. I might know what the overarching danger is, but I don’t know exactly how my characters will choose to combat it. A novel is a tale I tell myself as much as I tell it to readers. It’s the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure. Only instead of two or three possible outcomes, every choice made leads to infinite possibilities, limited only by my imagination.
And, really, how constrained can you be when your main character is the result of a family line that traces back to the god Pan beer-goggling one of the gorgons? Luckily, Tori, my heroine, doesn’t have some of the more aggressive gorgonic traits, like her cousin Tina’s really pronounced underbite or her grandmother’s beard. She might or might not have the ability to stop men in their tracks. A fairly useful trait when you’re a P.I. stalking the back alleys of L.A. Or it wouldn’t be if the bad guy didn’t look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and there weren’t a host of other Greek gods still walking about in modern dress, like Apollo, beloved star of stage and screen; Zeus, whose one-man pyrotechnic show is the toast of Vegas; and Aphrodite, currently the new Mayflower Madam. Yeah, losing their worship has meant a significant drop in their powers, but Tori isn’t ready to count them out just yet. It seems the old ones are planning a comeback with L.A. and its oblivious citizens footing the ultimate bill.
Yeah, you can tell I had fun with this. Luckily for me, Bad Blood is only the first in the Latter-Day Olympians series, so Tori and her crazy cadre get to entertain and surprise me anew in a second adventure forthcoming in 2012. I hope you’ll let them entertain you as well.