Casted – by Sonya Loveday

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Today is my turn to host Sonya’s whirlwind tour of the blogsphere, as organised by Book Crazy.

Sonya Loveday

I thought it would be just a simple interview, just a quick half-hour chat by Skype, but I found that I had to go to unusual lengths to grab a few words from Sonya’s very busy (and fairly cautious) characters. ‘Skype is traceable’ I was told by a young guy who introduced himself only as ‘Jude.’ Before I could say anything else he warned me not to ‘make that crack about the Beatles.’

I’m still not sure what he meant.

No, I was told that I’d have to meet with my interviewees in person. I suggested a public place – somewhere they’d feel safe, but a chorus of ‘No’s in the background led me to compromise. I would have to meet them where THEY felt safe.

What follows is my notes from that meeting;

*   *   *

If you’re reading this then you may already be sympathetic to the plight of the people I’m about to meet. Or you might be a Triad spy. Either way, what you’re about to hear will perhaps explain why these women have been running for most of their lives.

I’ve not been allowed to know the location of the interview. In fact, I’m not even sure which country I’m in. I can’t feel a blindfold. Nevertheless, I’ve been in darkness for the past half hour – ah!

A snap of my escort’s fingers returns my sight. That’s better! I can see.

“Sit yourself down,” the stern-looking guy says to me. “I’ll tell them you’re here.” He throws me a look that makes something very clear – he doesn’t trust me one bit.

“Thanks,” I say. He leaves via a chipped off-white door, giving me the chance to pull the crumpled notes from my inside jacket pocket and try to smooth them out on my knee.  The room is spartan, empty of all but the essentials of a farmhouse kitchen. A well-used cooker tries to hide itself in a corner. I’m on a mass-produced chair, set back from a planked table big enough to seat eight people.  The light, too, is poor. There are no windows in this room, only a couple of strip lights without diffusers that provide harsh illumination.

Not for the first time, I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m considering moving the hard chair over to the table when a frowning young woman bangs open the door and stares at me.  I swear that I can see sparks rising from her mahogany hair. She’s athletic, but her anger stops me from considering whether she’s attractive.

“We’re here, now what the hell do you want?”

I wonder what I can say to calm her – to assure her that I’m no threat to her and her friends – when a study of calm and beauty wafts past her. Long blonde hair and startling blue eyes consider me for a moment before she turns to her companion and sighs.

“It’s okay Jessa. Mister Toynbee is only here to help tell our side of the story.”

“I don’t trust him. He looks like a Triad spy.”

“He’s not a spy Jessa, he’s from WordPress.”

“Wordpress, spy, Mick, Triad plant…..all the same to me.”

“Jade asked us to do this, now stop trying to scare Mister Toynbee.”

“It’s nice to meet you ladies,” I say. Nervously, I shuffle my notes, hoping to find a starting point.

“Thank you Mister Toynbee, it’s nice to meet you too. Would you be more comfortable at the table?”

I nod my thanks to her and move to a chair half-way down the rough table. Now seated, I could spread out my notes and begin to figure out what I was going to ask them. But I think my first question was a big mistake.

“Will Jade be joining us?”

“I bet you’d like that wouldn’t you.”

“Jessa, we discussed this. Jade will be coming soon, Mister Toynbee.”

“I still don’t trust him, Rainy.”

Jessa spins one of the wooden chairs the wrong way round and drops herself onto it. Her dark eyes watch me carefully.

“I understand that you’re trying to protect her,” I say. “But at the same time, a lot of people are watching this battle between the Triad and the Original Coven and wondering why it’s happening.”

“You’re kidding me right?”

“You shouldn’t be so surprised Jessa.  The Micks don’t understand what is happening because it is not of their concern. The Covens have never included the Micks in our world, only the Triad have. You see Mister Toynbee, it’s a war as old as time, ever since the Original Coven formed there has been a restlessness in the spell caster community.”

“The Triad wanted to continue using the magic that was banned. The Original Coven wouldn’t let them. A small group of men broke away from the Original Coven and plotted ways to rise above the Original Coven, they were ruthless in their plight. They forced powerful people into their ranks by murder and entrapment. It was, and still is, an ongoing fight. No one is willing to let the other side win. The original Coven thought at one point that the Triad had gone off to lick their wounds after they failed to get Elinor and Leif – they were wrong, so very wrong.”

“That’s the reason for all this killing?  All the destruction? Isn’t there any kind of compromise that can be reached?”

“Compromise? Ha! You think this is just something both sides are going to sit down and negotiate? People are dying because of this. Jade is hunted. We’ve lost everything…family, our Coven’s…everything Mister Toynbee, all for the sake of a man on a power trip. He’s a ruthless bastard that would take out his own granddaughter to gain more power.”

“What Jessa is trying to say is that there is no compromising with someone like Lorenzo. The Original Coven members have been picked off slowly; the other Covens are running scared, splitting their Covens up and hiding in fear, when they should be fighting back.”

“But you still outnumber them, don’t you? I thought there were many Covens, even though the Triad has destroyed some and scattered others.”

“Outnumbering them isn’t the problem,” Jessa said

“There aren’t many willing to go up against the Triad – against Lorenzo,” Rainy added.

“And this…” I consult my notes. “…Lorenzo. He’s behind all this? He’s the driving force?”

“He’s the reason everyone is running scared, yes.” Rainy nodded.

I lower my voice. “But you must have some kind of plan. You don’t seem the types to just hide in this…” I indicated the room with a wave of my hand. “…bunker.”

“Hiding? In fact Mister Toynbee we’re doing the exact opposite…….OUCH! Damn it, Rainy, that hurt.”

“What Jessa is trying to say is there’s always a chance for hope.”

“Of course.  I understand. But you must realise that there are a lot of people out there who are ready to take sides. If they see that you’re the good guys, you may gain some useful allies.”

“It’s hard to gain allies when a war is being waged over a book. Would you join a war like that?” Jessa asked.

I decide to go for the human story angle. “Well, why don’t you tell me a little about yourselves. How did you meet, for instance? And how did you meet Jade?”

“Jessa and I have been friends since childhood. We’ve witnessed what the Triad was capable of. We made a pact that if our Covens split, we’d meet in Scotland. Never did we imagine that we’d actually have to do it. When I witnessed the murder of my family……”

“And you’ve been running ever since? You must have felt so lonely – so scared. No wonder you’re suspicious of everybody.”

“We’ve been through a lot Mister Toynbee…things we don’t care to discuss because it’s painful. I’m sure you understand. The fact is, we met up in Scotland after losing EVERYTHING….it was in Fate’s hands that Jade was in the same place at the same time. Rainy took one look at her and insisted we needed to help her. I was just trying to get us to a safe place – There isn’t anything we wouldn’t do to keep Jade safe, she’s our family.”

At that moment, another young woman enters the room. She seems nervous. Jessa  and Rainy rise from their chairs to flank her like bodyguards. Thin and of average height, she watched me with bright green eyes that were a startling counterpoint to her thick red hair.

“It’s okay….Sonya told me we can trust Mister Toynbee. She wouldn’t put us in danger.”

“So, Jade. You seem to be at the centre of all this,” I say as she settles into a chair opposite me. She is careful to remain out of my reach.

“Unfortunately, yes I am.”

I glance at Jessica and Rainy. “But you’re not alone. You have good friends. You seem to be as close as family, would that be a fair assumption?”

“They are my family.”

“And is there anyone special for you right now? A guy, perhaps?”

“You don’t have to answer that Jade.”

“No, it’s okay, I don’t mind. Edge is….”

“Overbearing, demanding, protective….”

“….acts just like Dagger?” Jade quirks her eyebrow at Jessa.

“Shhh…don’t let him hear you say that.”  Jessa laughs quietly.

“Edge is my preordained, Mister Toynbee. We are bonded through a very strong, very old spell – one that doesn’t choose sides, only people. “

“That’s very old magic, Jade. And very rare, I believe.  With that sort of power behind you, you might just have the edge.” Jade smiles at my unintended pun.

“Do you know that there are a lot of people rooting for you out there?”

“Really? I’m not sure how to reply to that Mister Toynbee. For so long I’ve stayed to the shadows…we’ve stayed to the shadows. Involving others only guaranteed someone’s death.”

“Some will remain neutral, but there are many who are waiting to see which way this swings before they decide to join in. What would you say to them?”

“You either let things happen or make things happen. Don’t expect mercy from the Triad, they will give none.”

“Many Covens have suffered so far. Do you really think one Coven of refugees can prevail against the Triad?”

“People are dying because of me….DYING! They don’t understand why….they run in fear from a situation no one understands. I will fight with everything in me to stop him. He’s taken too much from everyone, not just me. I owe it to the Covens, I owe it to my family. This small coven of refugees, as you call us, we’ve all lost so much because of him – because of Lorenzo. Don’t mistake our secrecy for weakness. We may be few in number, but that’s not going to stop us from doing everything in our power to stop the Triad.”

“Well, you certainly have good on your side – and that can count for a lot. One last thing – do you ever think you will find out the truth about your family? About what happened to them?”

“The little I’ve learned about my parents is that they paid the ultimate price for their love. As far as what happened to them, I may never really know the answer to that. I could lie and say it doesn’t bother me, but the truth is that it bothers me too much.”

“Well, I wish you the very best and I’ll be sure to let the world know that you are fighting for all the right reasons.” I begin to rise to my feet, but Jessica stiffens. I’d wanted to shake Jade’s hand, but I’m sure that would have earned me more than a harsh look.

“I’m ready to leave, now. Could someone tell the gentleman who – .”

“Matheson!” Jessica bellows. Rainy sighs as she makes a show of clearing the jangling from her ear with a forefinger. Matheson couldn’t have been far away. He steps into the room and meets my gaze.

“Ready?” he says. I nod. He snaps his fingers and my sight goes dark before he grasps my arm and leads me on a series of stomach-lurching jumps back to my own world. I have time to wonder how far we have travelled before we lurch to a stop. I hear fingers snapping. My sight is restored and I find myself standing alone on a rain-swept street, my notes clutched tightly in my hand.

Andrew Toynbee

Reporting from somewhere in Southern Ireland…

…in need of a good taxi service.

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Writers – are we all amateur psychologists?

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Make yourself comfortable on the couch…and tell me, how does this make you feel?

len-k-a couch

When we write fiction, we play God within the boundaries of our own created world. Depending on the genre, we might invent a brand-new race of beings, decide what stage of development their civilisation (if we decide to even give them one) has reached and set up the conditions of their planetary system.

In other genres, we might set the limits on magic that can be used, whether the land is forest or desert, decide if vampires  turn into charcoal at the merest hint of daylight or if they just sparkle and look moody (you know who I’m talking about).

Even if you’re writing contemporary tales set in real cities (*raises hand*), the writer still must lay out a basic plan of many of the character’s lives right up to the point where we first meet them and – yes, I’m finally getting to the point – why they act the way they do.

In order to create a credible and engaging story, we must delve deep into a character’s motives and feelings as well as thoroughly document (even if we don’t publish) that character’s life history. Does that sound boring? Dull and unnecessary? Too much planning when all you want to do is write? Sure, you could write a female character who hates all men and sticks to that pattern throughout the book. But an interested reader will certainly, after a few chapters of your misandrous main character spitting fire and venom at her colleagues, begin to wonder ‘what’s with her? Why is she like this?’

As two-dimensional ‘evil villains’ have risen to the top of the ‘do not create’ list, shallow main characters are very close behind.

Each of us is the sum of our own experiences, so why wouldn’t a fictional character be exactly the same? Naturally, they would tend to be larger than life, otherwise they would be no more interesting that the average Joe. But for them to have arrived at the point where we pick up the book and begin to journey with them, haven’t they had a childhood, teenage years, formative characters all around them?

But, you might ask, what if my character was grown in a lab and has just escaped? Then you have an excellent blank canvas with which to view our society through their eyes. Remember, even the android Data (Star Trek, if you didn’t know) who was created in his adult form, was an extraordinary character and as we later learned, had a fascinating back-story.

But with more down-to-earth (or whatever planet you’ve chosen) characters, the shape of their mould (that’s not a medical term, by the way) can make the difference between a two- and a three-dimensional reading experience. Most would have had a childhood and at least a few years of life which would have left lingering impressions on their psyche. And the more profund the experience, the stronger the effect upon their thinking.

If you’re not sure how to do this, then this is the point where you get to play psychologist. If you have already created your character, or have a good idea how your character is going to turn out, ask yourself ‘why would they be like this?’ Go back down the line of their life and work out what event(s) set them off down this path; what turned them from being a happy child / teenager / adult into the person that you, the writer, need them to be? After all, we are born as innocents. It’s our circumstances that mould us – and perhaps to a degree, our genes do too.

Something I’ve found  to be very useful is my interest in time travel, particularly my fascination with turning points. Most of you will remember ‘Back to the Future’ and the event that flipped Marty McFly’s forty-something father from a wimp into a confident writer. He was backed into a corner by a bully and came out fighting – something that would never have happened without the intervention of his future son. That was a turning point – something that set him along a different path. Darth Vader? He began his slip towards darkness because he was forbidden from falling in love. In ‘Jersey Girl’, Ben Affleck’s successful life was turned upside down when his wife died giving birth to their daughter. You can probably think of many others.

Sometimes the causes can be more subtle. Would a beautiful and smart girl have different college experiences to a plain, smart girl? How would a parent’s estrangement affect a small child? Would a minor physical defect have a cumulative effect on a character’s confidence?

The flip side of this is; how will your character change throughout the story? Will they shed their emotional burdens and grow as a person? Will their baggage drag them down even further? Are they able to realise what they need to do as a person in order to change? Remember the Twelve Steps – the first step to a cure is to admit that there is a problem. As writers we must not only create the problem, we need to envisage the cure…or at least, the consequences.

For a reader to empathise fully, it is also important that the character can be reached and that there is hope of redemption (if they are low), satisfaction and justice (if they are malevolent) or happiness (if they are being oppressed). That way, the reader can engage and share the journey, whether it is good or bad. This is where stereotypical evil villains fail – they have nothing that a reader can empathise with.

Have you found a creative way to twist your character’s life from the straight and narrow? What have you done to add that third dimension to your character’s psyche?

.

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