Tag Archive | time travel

New Beginnings and More Character Introductions

I recently posted something about Writer’s Digest Magazine saying it’s important to give your character a good introduction. I’ve already said I don’t really heed much to my character’s introductions (though I will try to in the future) because you can’t know enough of the character anyway until later on.

Well, interestingly enough Mark Kingston, my main character in my Civil War story has had several introductions, of several different kinds. I partially changed because I wasn’t very pleased with how I’d started the story originally. Then there came a point in my story which I found very hard to read, and therefore anyone else reading it might find it difficult to get through, so I thought it best to break it up in flashbacks. I think I am pretty pleased with the results (though the story is, annoyingly enough, still in the process of being edited). The final result is that Mark has technically had 3 introductions plus one that really didn’t work!

Here is the 1st version. I’ve reread it and find it’s a good reminder of why I wanted it changed. It’s mood is totally wrong, there’s peculiar sci-fi elements that don’t fit and the interpretation of Mark’s character is a little off because I immediately got the impression he was a bodybuilder, and that’s certainly never how I imagined him. Anyway, I’d better just put it down so you can read it for yourself:

Sunday mornings at the Fitness X-treme gym were always quiet, and this Sunday in late February was no different. There had been the usual rush of New Year Resolutioners but they had worn off by mid-February.

The usual popular, exciting music was going- the credit to that was due to Mark Kingston, the son of the gym’s manager, Julius Kingston.

Julius Kingston had started the gym in the midst of an earth in our distant future, when weight will still be a problem.

He had always been a big part of his project, a day never going by that he had made an appearance and encouraged his customers. However, as the years passed on, and his mission already partially accomplished with his neighbors becoming slimmer, he appeared less often at his gyms, but never less fit, and left it to his son, Mark, to help train the newcomers.

Mark, having lived in a world of vigorous health awareness, knew exactly what he was doing not only as a technique but more as a second nature. He had also received a text recommendation of pursuing a career as an M.D. and so he had studied that profession for a little while before dropping out. The time spent there had, however, given him some extra knowledge of fitness, so he looked completely comfortable and confident as he stood on a platform in the gym, looking around at the few people working out around and below him.

Overall, Mark did not stand out very much at that gym, except with the confidence showed on his face.

He had only stood there a few minutes when an employee from the swimming area came by, walking quickly and at the same time tying back her hair. She did not stop to speak to him.

“Mark, there’s someone wanting to speak to you on the phone, line 2,” She said, not waiting for a reply.

He glanced at her and then, changing his position slightly, apparently spoke to thin air, “Line 2.”

A small blue screen appeared, hovering in midair in front of Mark, the distorted, crisp image of a businesslike young man.

“Mark Kingston speaking,” he said, evidently about to continue along the lines of a customary greeting, but the appearance of the other seemed to cause him to hesitate. He then remained silent, waiting.

“Good morning, Mr. Kingston,” The other said, in a surprisingly comfortable voice, “My name is Zachary Black, I work with Dr. Derek Shelby, from the Goodwin University. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.”

Mark hesitated, nodding slightly.

“The name is familiar,” he said, looking slightly displeased, “But if this has to do with finishing my degree- I’m not interested. I haven’t taken a look at the Goodwin University for a while.”

The other nodded, saying, “It doesn’t really have anything to do with that. We received a text recommendation for you; the system matched you to Dr. Shelby’s project.”

A few things changed. I decided Mark shouldn’t have any M.D. training, and instead he did some paramedic training, which seemed to fit better. His dad- whose name, Julius, was provided by Orange Julius because I started writing this story in the mall next to an Orange Julius- completely disappeared. He certainly had nothing to do with starting a gym or whatever. In my revised version Mark simply ended up working at a gym because he could and it was available.

The only good thing about this original beginning (which is also the bad thing about it) is that I actually have a scene in Mark’s workplace. Never have I yet managed to set a scene there comfortably- partially because he became incredibly rich and didn’t need to work at a gym. This problem still irritates me, because I don’t like having things that you’ve never seen referred to or important.

So I wrote a new version, in which he gets to talk to Shelby. I wish I could remember the motivations for the setting and why I had to have them meet. It’s set in a fitness store, where’s he’s buying new shoes, and think I was hoping that would supplement for the gym. I think it helps but it still feels awkward to me. Here it is:

“Is that all you’ll be getting today?” The woman with the spikey hair behind the checkout counter asked, her eyes still set on the computer in front of her. It was a purely automatic question, said by millions of people before her. The answer was just as automatic.

“Yes, thanks,” Mark said, taking the new running shoes from the counter and turning to go.

He started heading straight to the exit, looking around him without much interest. His surroundings were like many stores. It was a ‘fitness’ place, with the newest equipment, a training area and a small cafeteria.

A man slowly got down from a stool and quickly stepped in front of him, saying, “Mr. Kingston?”

Mark stopped short, looking at him, rather surprised.

“I’m not interested in buying anything right now- I told you that last time I was here. You’d think that if you knew my name you’d remember that I’m not interested,” he said, irritated.

“I’m not selling anything, Mark. My name is Dr. Derek Shelby,” the man answered, putting out his hand. He had a normal voice and he spoke with an American accent.

Mark shook it, shoving the shoes he’d just bought under his arm. He asked, “Now they’re employing doctors to do the selling, or why did you want to talk with me?”

I think I will definitely keep this introduction (I apologize for the sudden end). It introduced Mark in a much better way than the original had, showing his rather defiant nature. the only problem is that he’s supposed to be a little joking in nature and I’m not sure if I’ve managed that without the original beginning.

Now, after I wrote this I decided to break up the ‘bleh’ section. What you just read is technically still his introduction, but I added this to the beginning:

The young man passed across several trees, getting further and further away from the terrible sounds of the battle, until it was only a distant booming that could have been mistaken for fireworks. Once he had made it far enough away he slowly sank to the ground, making no sound as though afraid to be seen. Sleep gradually came to him in a fitful, vague form, as he lay alone in the past.

He was not an ordinary man; or rather he was not ordinary to his surroundings. He did not belong to them, although there was nothing visibly different about him.

The only great difference, which seemed to be noticeable to animals, was that he was a time traveler, and he came from the far future.

His name was Mark Kingston. He had trained as a paramedic, then lost interest in that career after a couple years of studying for it. He acquired a job at a gym, got a girlfriend by the name of Fanny Carter and, at an age when one is usually set in their path, he seemed pretty well set.

But he was not satisfied with his life. He never said anything about his discontentedness, but it was evident to his friends.

He passed a couple of years at the gym, acquiring a reputation as someone you could trust and be friends with, both as an employee and as a person.

He seemed a different person now, where he lay in the past, in a forest- tense, exhausted and weary. His appearance was still very much the same, except for several scrapes, a bullet wound and his skin nearly the same color as the dirt he lay on.

But when he had first arrived in the past, and that seemed a long time ago for him, he had been a different person. Now, after a lot of things had occurred to make him change, it is nearly impossible for anyone to remain the same.

The change did not take place all at once. It took a long time for him to change, but it was only then that he was willing to show the difference. It started, in fact, when Mark decided he didn’t want to be a paramedic. The decision, although he never told anyone, even his parents, was a sudden one, but he was so definite about it, no one argued.

He did not entirely like working where he did, at the gym. But he seemed determined to go on there, hopefully rising in ranks until he could be the assistant manager or even manager. His choice- it could hardly be called a dream- was cut short, however.

It had all started with a phone call. And like any unsuspecting hero, he would never have expected a simple phone call to lead his life in an entirely different direction, especially where it led him now, laying alone in a world that was hardly his own.

And that is the introduction to Mark Kingston, leading into the second version I wrote. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much trouble introducing a character. It’s been very interesting.

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Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

I should probably give a quick explanation for what NaNoWriMo is. It’s short for National Novel Writing Month, takes places in the month of November, during which time you try to write a novel- which is about 50,000 words. That’s the quick explanation. You can do a lot of variations, because it’s a wonderfully relaxed challenge- though fortunately not so relaxed or bizarre (for me) that I forget about it. You can go on working on an old story, do poems instead, write several short stories and, of course, challenge yourself to a different goal.

I always look forward to November, or the last few Novembers, since finding out about NaNoWriMo. It’s actually the reason why I realized I wanted to write as a profession, because I was looking forward to it a great deal.

Obviously it takes a lot of preparation. You want to know what you’re going to write, know enough of the steps you want to take to get to 50,000 (or the end of the story), which could be anything from basic character developments and plot turns, to extensive and obsessively detailed outlines of everything from the plot, to characters to every scene.

I will be writing the third part of a trilogy about the Civil War and time traveling. It’s been a little more complicated because I have to know enough about history to be able to be comfortable (which is technically still an issue) among many other details.

This story was even harder because my main character develops Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a fascinating and complicated subject, but I wanted to know it well enough so that I didn’t have to look at my notes every single page, as well as- more importantly- being able to write it so it didn’t sound staged.

So, I started studying PTSD some time last year, hoping to be able to write this story last November. That didn’t happen, because I still didn’t know the subject well enough, and it’s taken me that long to feel comfortable with it and like I vaguely know what I’m talking about, which is much longer than it usually takes me to study a subject. (I’m actually sorry to admit that, sense it seems like I ought to be studying such things for years, all the time, as well as editing for months and months)

It’s been interesting working on it, actually. I’ve had to go back and change several things to fit with this final, unpleasant development. Here is a short example of what I had to change. My main character, Mark, is outside the battlefield of Gettysburg, it’s nighttime:

“The young man laid down against a tree. He covered his ears and tried to get some much needed sleep amidst the fighting.”

That was the original. Here is the revised version:

“The young man laid down against a tree. He tried to get some much needed sleep amidst the fighting.”

Leaving out the part about him covering his ears I think implies that he is mentally blocking out the trouble around him. He is in a state of mind where he’s been put into a situation he’s certainly never faced and isn’t used to dealing with, and he doesn’t want to fully deal with the idea of the magnitude of death, so, whether he realizes it or not, Mark is shutting off a part of his brain so that he can act and work in this situation. He doesn’t fully realize what’s happening.

Hopefully this makes sense according to the symptoms of PTSD. Of course, if any of you that read this know anything about PTSD or know someone that does, please let them see this and tell me what they think.

So, anyway, I think I know enough so I am going ahead and writing the ‘fun’ stuff next month. I encourage anyone that’s interested in NaNoWriMo to plan for it, even if you’re not writing a character that’s dealing with PTSD.

Now this next month is going to be even more interesting than usual. My Dad is out of a job. Enough said, I think. Basically, my fellow author sisters and I will, in addition to the usual craziness of writing a novel in a month and of course Thanksgiving, we will be dealing with the emotional and mental problems of unemployment. November’s going to be interesting, but I want to enjoy it.

I have only a few important things to say before I finish this post. First of all: to all those people with PTSD or who had PTSD or know someone that has it, especially veterans, I have a new understanding of it. I cannot express easily or quickly overall everything I feel about it. God bless you and I am praying for you.

And secondly, to anyone that’s experienced unemployment, basically I owe you an apology. For some reason I never thought I would have to go through it- it was one of those things that happened to other people. Now I know how hard and unpleasant it is, especially when there’s no end in sight. So sorry, and I pray, for those that are unemployed, that you will soon get a job.