Creating the backgrounds for characters can be both fun and excruciating when you’re starting out a new project. You can come up with interesting, unique people to write about, give them all sorts of back stories — their background, their culture, their quirks, their powers and their weaknesses — but at the same time, they don’t exist in a vacuum. You need to also remember that they’re also there to interact with your other characters and the story itself. Otherwise they’re just placeholders, or worse, redshirts — the throwaway characters put there for the sole purpose of getting rid of them later on.
I’ve been dealing with this quite a bit for the last few weeks, with both the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World. A lot of the central characters are springing forth rather easily, and that’s because I already have fully-planned purposes for them. A few of the other characters, on the other hand, are still a bit vague and need more research and planning. I only have vague purposes for them. By vague, I mean that they support some of the main characters, but other than that, they’re kind of inconsequential.
Granted, both projects are still in their rough draft iterations and haven’t gotten the MS Word transcription/revision yet. I’m not giving up on them just yet. They’ll shine on their own eventually, once I flesh out the story and get a clearer picture of who they are and why they’re there. I just have to be a bit patient about it sometimes!
So how do I know if I can trust this character to blossom during a later draft? Or will they end up being a redshirt that I’ll have to edit out later? Good question. Often times I don’t. The point here is to let them give the old college try. I put there for a reason, so I just need to figure them out. I’ll give them just that little bit more TLC when I’m revising; I’ll think a bit more about their relationship to the story and the others within it.
Eventually, they’ll become part of the main entourage instead of a throwaway.
Somehow I’ve roped myself into working on three different projects at the same time. I’m revising Meet the Lidwells and writing the Apartment Complex story, and now I’m writing outtakes of my Magical Girl story for my warmup words (while listening to ELO, no less). Go figure.
Here’s an outtake I wrote Thursday evening. Hope you enjoy!
[Story so far: a group of college kids are on a camping vacation in the wilderness and witness a girl, clad in armor and wielding a glowing broadsword, tearing a hole in reality and jumping through to escape an unseen evil presence. The girl closes the hole, but faints. The kids bring the girl to their rented cabin to nurse her wounds, and a few days later she reawakens, though stricken with amnesia.]
Zuzanna stepped out onto the porch of the cabin and once again tried to remember who the hell she was. She was a solider, yes. Zuze was definitely her name, weird as it was. She was apparently a badass — Katie’s description, at least. She remembered ripping a hole in the fabric of time and squeezing through to get away from… who? Someone named Krozarr? A vague emotion stirred whenever she thought of that name, and she wasn’t sure why. This amnesia ate at her, frustrated her to no end. She needed to know who she was and where — and when — she was from, damn it all! And she knew she needed to get back and finish what she’d started.
“Hi, Zuze,” she heard off to her right. Katie was sitting in one of the wicker rocking chairs, kicking back and relaxing, enjoying the morning. “You doing okay today?”
Zuze hummed in response. She still wasn’t sure how to talk to this young girl who, in an odd way, reminded her of herself. Zuze had never had a quiet childhood, and her teenage years had been fraught with noise and stress and worse. Again — she knew the memories were there, but she could not quite connect with them.
“Frustrated,” she said. “And hungry.”
“I hear you,” Katie said, smiling at her. “The boys should have come back with more food and supplies by now. I don’t know what’s taking them so long.” She pulled the blanket closer around her legs, despite it being not all that cold. She seemed distracted, looking out into the front garden and down the pathway, wanting to say something but holding back.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Zuze asked, pointing to the other chair.
Katie blinked, the question unexpected. “S-sure, go right ahead.”
“Thank you,” she said, and sat down. She didn’t feel all that cold… in fact, she felt too warm. The others had been grousing about a cold snap earlier, but she alone hadn’t noticed. She wondered if she was just used to the climate back where she was from that this current one felt like bliss. She looked out across the garden as well, past the treeline at a large lake off in the distance. That body of water definitely looked familiar. Of course she couldn’t remember the name. She still couldn’t remember a lot of things.
“Zuze, can I ask you a questions?”
Zuze glanced over at the girl. “Sure.”
Katie frowned, thinking of what she wanted to say before she spoke. “You’re from the future, right?”
“I…I believe I am, yes.”
“You don’t know how far, though? You still don’t remember?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll… remember it eventually. Pretty sure I will, anyway.”
“Hmm.” Katie shifted herself, still frowning. “You were fighting someone. I don’t think any of us saw his face, but we heard his voice. Sounded like a big bad guy. I…” She drifted off, looking away, and Zuze let the silence linger. This was hard enough for her to comprehend, so it had to be worse for this girl. “I tried looking up his name online. Different versions of it. I couldn’t find a match anywhere. For you to jump through time to get away from someone like that, they have to be pretty evil. And they’d have made the news *somewhere*. So I’m thinking you’re from pretty far ahead.”
Zuze shuddered. “He won’t bother any of you, I promise,” she said a little too quickly.
But Katie smiled instead. “We’re not worried about that, Zuze. We’re worried about you. I’m worried. I want to help you remember. So I figure, if we can’t pin down exact memories, we can at least narrow the scope, right?”
Zuze blushed, equally warmed and embarrassed by her words. “You don’t have to do that, Katie,” she said. “It’ll come to me soon enough.”
But Katie wouldn’t relent. “Don’t you see? We want to help. You’ve dropped into our lives, Zuze. Literally. You ripped a hole in reality and jumped through, and we were all there to catch you. We’re your friends. We want to help.”
Zuze couldn’t believe what this girl was saying. She couldn’t bear to expose these young kids to the evils of her own time! She did not want their lives on her conscience. And yet… she found herself tearing up. She even felt a little cold that moment, and wished she’d brought a blanket of her own.
“I…” she started.
“We’re here for you as long as you need us,” Katie said, and laid a hand on hers. “We can be your safe haven for the time being.”
Zuze wiped the tears away, grinning like an idiot. “Th-thank you, Katie,” she said, her voice just above a whisper.
Postscript: Of course I’m going to give this one an anime-inspired title. Given that this one has ties to ELO, I’m going to call it In My Blue World for now. 🙂