Thursday, March 29, 2007

Off Stage

Girl with Black Gloves/Outdoor Stage, Paris.

Everett Shinn.

Pastel on paper, about 1902.

I have a Dead Guy in my WIP - who won't shut up.

Who is acting like - in parapsychological language - as a physically deceased intelligence.

Nathan Strange, the husband, the zombie, the revenant.

You met him in the first line: I was standing there naked when a dead man sauntered into my bathroom.

You may remember she fixed him. But. He keeps intruding, affecting my heroine's thoughts and reactions. And he is not a nice man.

This is not a question of a character taking over. I don't abnegate responsibility that easily.

The question is how effective is it.

I am concerned because I'm considering killing off another character. Having Nathan kill him off actually.

Another character who may only appear by reference, embodied only in other character's thoughts and memories.

Does this sort of thing irritate the reader?

It's been a while since I read Rebecca - which is the first example of a dominant non-entity that came to mind as Nathan, some thousands of words in, continues to assert himself.

How physically present should characters be?


December Quinn said...

I don't care, honestly. A character is a character, and sometimes they're more fun for being off-screen. The example that comes to mind for me (after Rebecca) is Hyacinth Bucket's son Serge, on the British show "Keeping Up Appearances". We never see Serge, but we are privy to some one-sided phone conversations in which it becomes clear to the audience, although not to Hyacinth, that Serge is gay as Christmas.
It serves to illustrate her character brilliantly, but also makes him more intriguing and interesting than if were just her gay sone who shows up every few episodes. He's able to be much more subtle.

I don't think we need to see the characters. A lot of the time we read about long-lost friends or relatives and they don't actually appear in the book.

Bernita said...

A character is a character, and sometimes they're more fun for being off-screen.

Thank you, December. That is well-put.

Ric said...

Not irritating if the character is germaine to the plot. What is annoying is off screen powers that affect the story but are never explained. (trying hard to come up with example here).....
we crave explanation. Is there a reason he keeps hanging around? A reason he killed another character? We don't need to see him - in fact, it may be more suspenseful not to.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, thank you, Ric.
I'd say he's the plot trigger, the prime cause.
If he hadn't been such an asshole...

Sela Carsen said...

I'm totally with December on this one. He may be even more compelling for all that we never see him.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

No...ghosts killing people is creepy cool. But the person that he kills off should be someone that we know and can identify with, so that we can feel something at him/her being killed.

If a ghost that I'm getting to know kills off someone that I don't know, I would probably say, "So what?"

Dave said...

"He who must not be named" - Voldemort - is mostly absent from the early Harry Potter books but he drives the story.

Bernita said...

So, Sela, references/comparisons by his wife wouldn't put you off them.

Not as a ghost, Bonnie, to be precise, as a zombie, before he shows up in the bathroom. And, yes, the character is a decent sort, a friend of the MC.
Good point about it necessary that the death ( serious injury at present) be a loss, thank you.

Ha! Never thought of him, Dave. Thank you.

Erik Ivan James said...

Toss my thoughts in with December's too. And, think back to what great success Bob Newhart had with his one-side telephone comedy routines.

Carla said...

Why would it irritate the reader? It sounds potentially quite interesting, because to me it indicates that Lillie didn't entirely 'fix' him in the bathroom and that even if he can't come back as a zombie now he can still come back in some other form. Which raises the interesting question of how often can he come back, in what forms, and can he ever be got rid of for good and if so how?
Agree with Bonnie that if he does something bad (death, injury, mayhem) it will have more impact if it happens to someone the reader has met and liked.
Also agree that one off-screen character controlling events can be intriguing and compelling, whether they're off-screen because they're somewhere else (Voldemort, Sauron) or dead (Rebecca). It might be a problem keeping them straight if there were several, but so far you've only mentioned one.

Marie said...

It sounds good to me, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Another positive. Thank you, Erik.

I don't know that it is, Carla, but the question struck me, since I find she is haunted by memories, and I thought I would toss it out for reaction.
If he is a zombie and not a tulpa - which might mean a zombie form is still tooling around somewhere - I suspect his only other form could be ghostly.

Thank you, Marie. Doesn't seem to be any negatives so far to the basic process.

Jaye Wells said...

Bring it on, Bernita. Can't wait to read this one.

Bernita said...

Nice of you to say so, Jaye. it's slow going, keeping the magical rules intact, as well as ordinary logic.

Kate Thornton said...

December, Hyacinth's offscreen gay son is Sheridan - you are thinking about Absolutely Fabulous' Edina's son Serge who is also offscreen and probably gay. Two phantom sons on 2 British comedy shows. Coincidence? (Cue spooky music)

I am delighted that we watch the same stuff!

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I was standing there naked when a dead man sauntered into my bathroom.

Well that line alone would have me plunking money down for your book, Bernita. :-)

What irritates me as a reader is a poorly written story. A skilled writer can pull almost anything off without fear of affronting the reader. As long as a character is well drawn and integral to the story, what does it matter if he’s seen and heard tiptoeing about or not?

Go with your gut feeling on this, Bernita, and you should be just fine.

spyscribbler said...

I loved how that was done in Rebecca! I haven't the slightest doubt that you can pull it off, Bernita!

It's sounding more intriguing every day!

Bernita said...

With unbecoming immodesty, Daisy, I admit to being very pleased with that line.
Sustainability is, of course, the challenge - as always, but I will "go with my gut" and not consign him to the outer hells. Good advice.Thank you.

Natasha,do you people realize how much your encouragement means when one is uncertain about direction and the editorial "what if this pisses people off" start yelling at one?

LadyBronco said...

I love this painting, Bernita.
Nice choice.

A character need not be physically present to affect the story. Rebecca is, indeed, a wonderful example of this.

Often, the memory of someone ~ or the ghost of someone ~ can make a powerful character without ever actually being there.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lady B.
The ayes have it. I am reassured I'm not doing something truly dumb by building, bit by bit, his character.

It's the choice of scarlet for her evening gown, I think, that lifts the painting.