Ever feel like the voices in your head need to speak up?
This past weekend, I was working on a short story, because I'm a writer and that's what I do with my Saturday nights. (Okay, not all of them, but still. Writer.) This was another of the "short story as would-be prologue" things, as I've talked about and posted here before. The story took place about a year before the planned book, and I wanted it to be the origin of the two human characters, showing how they left Earth to travel the multiverse.
It's seven pages and I couldn't get a damn word of it to sound right.
Granted, these were characters I had never written before. I wanted to write the quasi-prologue to get a feel for who they were before their lives changed. So I had these two people who'd known each other for a few years, working as security guards at a massive telescope*, who see what appears to be some sort of alien ship that's there to steal the telescope's lens/mirror. Nothing like dealing with something completely unexpected to figure out who someone really is, right?
I did learn a little bit about the characters. One pauses more often in her speech than I thought she would, a trait that won't stick around when she's effectively first mate on an interplanar vessel. The other character had nowhere near as much personality on the page as I saw in my head, which is a significant problem, as the story was from his point of view and he came off as pretty boring.
Yes, I know these are issues I can fix in editing. And I've been working on that. But there's nothing quite like sitting down with characters you think you know and having them be just . . . blah, despite being in a highly unusual situation.
I think part of it is that these versions of the characters aren't the people I've been working with since January or so during the plotting process. The book starts with them having a year of interplanar travel under their belts, so they've been through a great deal (note to self: add scars to at least one person's backstory). I had to take two characters who are pretty new to me and extrapolate backward into a part of their lives that I never intended to be all that significant to their story.
Funny . . . now I'm starting to see why this didn't work.
I've said before that I know I'm really getting set on who the characters are supposed to be when I start to hear their dialogue when I'm plotting. Seeing a character in a situation and knowing exactly what they would say? It's awesome, always will be. That hasn't happened with these two. Looking back through the book's plot, I see the only dialogue I've already written is for a very different character. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, since these characters are new to me, but all the same, this was quite the wake-up call.
While I don't plan to write this book next, I clearly need to spend more time with these people before I do. Knowing a character's actions is all well and good - and I do think I have them set for that, at least - but if their dialogue doesn't sound right, the character just won't seem real. I've always loved writing dialogue, and I will not subject a reader to less than my best in that area.
While I'm not happy with the would-be prologue, it's given me a jumping-off point, and I can see where things go from there. I've done some new plot work, taking notes on what's happened to these characters in the year since they joined the crew. I'm still not hearing them speak to me, but I think I'm getting closer. Just need to keep at it. As always.
And at least I learned about this before I started to write the actual book. O_o
*I'm not entirely sure if the giant telescopes have security guards. I did a bit of research when I found a suitable telescope for the story, and couldn't find anything definite. But I can research it more before I write the actual book. It doesn't have to be a telescope - these characters just have to be near something interesting that can be stolen.