July 3, 2014

What Happens When We Give Our Characters the Keyboard: a guest post by Barry Napier, author of "Dark Water"

Barry Napier has had more than 50 short stories and poems featured in print and online publications. He is the author of The Masks of Our Fathers,The Bleeding Room, The Hollows, Nests, Dark Water, and several other books. He was also the winner of the 2012 Amazon contest "Write a Dead Man Novel" which awarded him a contract with 47 North to write the 18th installment of Amazon's Dead Man series, Streets of Blood.
A collection of his short fiction, Debris, was published by Library of Horror Press in 2009 but is currently out of print (many of the stories featured in Debris can be found in his newer collection, Broken Nightlights). In 2010, his debut poetry collection, A Mouth for Picket Fences, was published by Needfire Poetry.

A humble servant to ambient music and coffee, Barry continues to work towards further self publishing projects as well as pursuing traditional markets. He is currently at work on two series and a number of stand-alone novels.

He keeps his online home at http://barrynapier.wordpress.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter under the name @bnapier.

bio and author pic courtesy of  Amazon.com

by Barry Napier

About five years ago, I started writing a series called Everything Theory. I pitched it as The X-Files meets The Twilight Zone. It was planned to be 5 books and the first two were released pretty much according to the schedule I had planned. But in writing Book 3, something happened…something unexpected that has caused not only a huge delay in the release of Book 3, but also drastically altered plans for other books that I had planned for the next few years.
It was upsetting at first but now that I have started to immerse myself into the ideas and characters that are behind this unexpected schedule, I’m beginning to realize something pretty important: If a story is any good, your characters and their motivations have just as much say over the plot as the writer.
Let me try to explain.
Strong Characters Deserve a Second Chance
In writing Book 3 of Everything Theory, I was surprised to find that a character from another book I had written a while back wanted to show up. It made sense…he fit with the narrative and the overall plot of the series. This fellow’s name is Cooper M. Reid. He made his first appearance in a limited edition chapbook that was published by Strange Publications a few years back. Those that read the chapbook (and God bless you, as there were only 25 of you) know of Cooper’s fate.
Or, rather, you thought you did.
I brought Cooper back and planted him into Book 3 of Everything Theory. It was originally a walk-on part at best but then grew into something else. Eventually, Cooper’s presence turned it into a whole new book…which wasn’t good.
So instead, I shrunk his appearance back down and tried something risky: I tried giving Cooper his own book, independent of the Everything Series.
That book then also became bigger than I was expecting. The result? Cooper M. Reid now has his own series. And with one book under his belt and another quickly on the way, I have found that this was one of the best writing decisions I have ever made.
Universes Can Be Intimidating
The problem now, of course, is that Cooper will now be linked to the Everything Theory series. This is great in the sense of the Cooper novels, as he has a pretty illustrious history that fits well into the Everything Theory series. But the bad part is that it also crosses the line into “universe building.”
This means that Cooper’s actions in Everything Theory, no matter how miniscule, will need to be reflected in his own novels to some degree...and vice versa. And with the complexities in the Everything Theory books, that can get tricky. It’s one of the reasons Book 3 has yet to be wrapped up. Tying these two universes together into a single universe is trickier than I thought. And the hell of it is that I’m having to be cautious all because of a small walk-on part that Cooper plays.
One thing about creating a universe…consistency is key.
Let the Characters Have a Say in Their Stories
I fought the decision to write the first Cooper M. Reid novel. I was already drowning myself in the Everything Theory books. Starting another series would be madness, right? Besides, other than the peculiar events in the chapbook (ominously titled The Final Study of Cooper M. Reid), what did I really even know about this character?
Sure, there were a few basic things…but not enough to warrant his own novel…let alone his own series.
But then, about halfway through the first novel, I let Cooper grow the way that made sense, and not the way I thought he had to appear to constitute his own series. I thought I knew how his books needed to flow, as they were linked in some small way to the Everything Theory books. But then Cooper proved me wrong and the first book in his series, Dark Water, became a book that I was not expecting. It’s dark. It’s sort of comical in a morbid sort of way. And it’s the closest thing to a mystery I have ever written.
And as a result, I learned a lot about Cooper. Namely, that he’s an interesting character that has more to say than could be contained in a 10,000 word chapbook and two chapters in the third book of someone else’s story in the Everything Theory books.
And I’m still learning new things about him on a daily basis.
I believe there are lessons to be learned every time a writer sits down behind the keyboard. But none of them are more powerful than when we lose ourselves in a character and, for a surreal moment, let them write the story.
Want to learn more about Cooper M. Reid? Dark Water is now available for Kindle. And if you want a peek into this other universe he has peeked into, check out Books 1and 2 of Everything Theory.

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