Hi! Lou Sylvre here absolutely thrilled to be making this reappearance on Love Bytes. The title of my post is admittedly a little obscure—it’s really about making a character “real.” I decided to write this when, in the course of doing some really interesting research on places, it struck me that bringing a character to life—whether in my imagination as a reader or when I’m creating as a writer—has a lot to do with location—three different kinds.
Location One: Place—I mean the scenery, yes. But I’m also referring to a lot more than that—the atmosphere of home, the character of the city, the type of obstacles weather throws at the hero, the way the land informs who they are and what is possible.
Location Two: Time—A story taking place in 18th century London is not in the same “place” as one set in 11th century London. Not at all. The United States in the 1951 is a far different place than the same country in 1969. And, the character didn’t just drop onto earth fully formed—he was born into a certain era and has lived X number of years. Events have shaped him.
Location Three: Body, Mind, and Heart—Found within the character himself, this third facet of location is a result of backstory and direction. Whether he is conscious of striving toward a goal or not, the character is going somewhere in his life. Despite the popular concept of ending up right where you started, it can’t happen for real, because humans and the world we live in are changed by every second that intervenes between the “starting” and the “end.” The same has to be true of the character if he’s going to hold up under reader scrutiny.
To put it in different terms, it’s about character arc. As readers and writers know, if at least one primary character in a story doesn’t change (grow) during the story, you don’t have a story, you have an anecdote (however long). You may have heard of the “stages of change.” It’s a model used in various pursuits like substance abuse treatment, but it is a good snapshot of the way change happens in humans and, of course, human characters. I chose the particular image (see picture) because I think it matches well with the idea of the character arc. The upward curved arrow depicts pretty well the pattern of change the protagonist usually experiences in a story. (If you don’t believe me ask Aristotle.)
Consider Luki Vasquez: If he’d never been assaulted—never been a scared, lonely teenager…
He never would have been a badass ATF agent.
Here’s an excerpt from Loving Luki Vasquez that places Luki squarely in that “stages of change” progression. As I hope you’ll see, it’s a defining moment for him, and it’s woven from all those strands of where he’s been in place, time, and self. No other person (character) could ever be in precisely this same “place,” because the place is somewhere deep inside the man’s soul.
To set the scene—Luki and Sonny had spent a month or so together, but they’ve just had a major disagreement, hot words exchanged, and Sonny has told Luki he has to get out of his house.
He went through Sonny’s house—Sonny’s home—gathering his things. A shirt. Flip-flops—something he’d never owned before, bought for exploring the beach with Sonny. Underwear, by God. He looked at the St. Christopher medal he’d hung over the lamp by the bedside, lifted it, but let its weight fall from his fingers. He’d leave it for Sonny.
I want him safe, he thought.
He headed for the bathroom to gather his toothbrush, hair pick, and dressing for the curls he was so vain about. But before him, Sonny’s studio door stood open. Luki hadn’t been in there since the day after they’d come back to find it desecrated, half of Sonny’s work destroyed. Sonny was right, he realized now; the house did smell of him. He knew that because the air coming through the studio held not a trace of him.
It was all Sonny. Sea salt and coffee. Sun and dyes and wool. Beneath it all, a trace of I’m-too-into-my-work-to-stop-for-a-shower sweat. All of it sweet. Even the sweat. Luki stepped down into the one room into which he’d never been invited. Sonny’s haven, his sanctum, his kaleidoscope world.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. Sonny hadn’t cleaned the hate words from the wall, but he’d painted a thick, black line through them, crossed them out. Next to the scrawl, on a huge, complicated, upright loom, hung an almost finished tapestry of light-filled blues and sun so bright it blurred the lines of everything it touched. He recognized the place and the time. The street in town with the strip of park against the long sand beach, and people walking in bright clothing, some standing in line for pizza-by-the-slice at Manzetti’s. A child in a stroller.
The day they’d met.
At the focal point: Luki. Larger than life.
It stole his breath, and he sank to the arm of the couch that he hadn’t even noticed behind him. Some time after that—Luki didn’t know if it was minutes or an hour—he heard Sonny’s boots on the porch, the screen door open and this time close more gently. Sonny would of course know Luki was still there, would have seen his car outside. Luki gave the thought a corner of his attention, wondered distantly whether Sonny would hate that Luki had breached his private domain, on top of all the harm he’d already done.
But he couldn’t look away from the tapestry.
Sonny came to stand just inside the studio door. Luki felt him there, heard his breath, noticed his faint shadow falling over him. He didn’t turn his head.
Sonny didn’t speak.
Luki asked, his voice no more than a thin scratch, “Is that how you see… saw me? You thought I was beautiful?”
“Yes,” Sonny said, and then he sighed. His voice had lost its edge, melodious and rich again. “That’s how I see you. I think you’re beautiful. How could that change? I see what’s there. I always see what’s there.”
Something tightened in Lukis throat, something foreign, something painful, and with a shock he recognized what it was. Tears. Oh my God, tears. They welled up in his eyes and flowed over. His face felt wet, and heavy drops ran down his scar like a river bed, like that was the reason the scar was made, to give the tears a place to run.
He wanted to howl, to sob, to bury his face in a pillow and scream, but he didn’t. He sat stock-still, holding back the screams, and it hurt.
Sonny stepped forward, quieter, more sober and capable than Luki had ever seen him. With a thumb he wiped gently at the tears under each of Luki’s eyes. Again, he sighed. “What do you want to do, Luki?”
“I’m not beautiful, Sonny.” The words forced themselves up and out.
“You are. I see what’s there. I always, only, ever see what’s there, and I weave what I see—or at least as close as my fingers and materials can come.”
“I—” Luki stopped, choking on the words. They cut like diamonds when he forced them. “I don’t want to go, Sonny. I don’t want to leave.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Maybe you have something to add, or maybe you disagree. Either is great. I’d also love to hear about a favorite character of yours (from any book), and how you think any of the three types of location I spoke about helped turn him into someone you loved (or even loved to despise). Does he live where you do? Did he grow up when you did?
I’m going contest free this month, but I suspect I’ll be back next month with a new opportunity to win something. Last month’s winner: 16forward! Thanks all of you who commented and all of you who swung by sylvre.com on your IDAHOT travels. (The hop was awesome this year, wasn’t it?)
One more thing, in the way of awesome stuff. Dreamspinner’s Vasquez and James Bundle is available through iBooks. Seven unabridged books—the six from the Vasquez and James original series, and A Shot of J&B (Book One of Vasquez Security—The Next Generation, and you get them all for only $9.99, right now!
That’s it for this month! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts.