by Robert Lopresti
people write in their offices, surrounded by shelves of fine old books. Some go
to special retreat homes set aside for the dedicated scribbler.
Others drag their laptops to the local Starbucks, inspired by the
lattes and the bustle around them.
my usual hangout, really, but I do seem to spend part of a morning here
every summer. We attend a weeklong music camp and since the
classes are much more up my wife’s alley than mine, I volunteer to do
the wash ‘n dry duties. Long as I can plug the laptop in, I’m
set. The fact that there is no wireless is so much the better;
When I packed for this vacation I brought the
text of a book I have been working on, hoping to make some progress on
it. But after a page or two I knew it wasn’t where my heart wanted to
spend the week.
You see, I have a new idea for a novel
And when I say “idea” that’s almost all there is. I have a
one-page outline and calling it a page is generous. But it was
summoning me and with a big (for me) chunk of time to work, I decided
to give it a shot.
All of which might be of mild interest to my
dearest friends, but let’s see if I can make it more general by getting
to my point. It’s here somewhere, possibly next to the fabric
Right! At this point in my young manuscript
Character A realizes he needs to get to a certain place. He’s an
executive type and it seemed reasonable to have him call an underling
for a ride. But the chapter was awfully short so I decided that
the underling – call him B – would be busy.
“Okay,” says A. “Send Ray Ray.”
And who the hell is Ray Ray?
That’s what I wanted to know. Until A mentioned him I had no idea the guy existed. I did like the name, though.
he could have passed by the reader like a ship in the night, showing up
only long enough to transport our protagonist to his destination.
But in the early stages of a book you should take advantage of every
possibility that offers itself.
So I thought about the little I knew
about Ray: the childish name, the fact that he was a low-level person
in the organization who could be expected to jump when summoned…
bingo! I suddenly realized that Ray Ray was a double-crosser,
working for Characters Q and R who, as you can tell from their place in
the alphabet, don’t come into the story for quite some time. Even
better, because of Ray Ray I now knew how they WOULD arrive in the book.
by the way, remember Character B, who was too busy to give his boss a
ride? It turns out he was busy with his wife, which gave me
something more I hadn’t known about him, as well.
All of this
progress on the novel happened because my protagonist was too cheap to
call a taxi. I’m very grateful to him.
Which brings us to the witches of Lancre…
have blogged before about Terry Pratchett, the brilliant English
fantasy writer who invented Discworld. In one of his books he created a
witch named Granny Weatherwax: a grimly Puritanical old woman who was a
good witch simply because she was too vain to be a wicked one.
(Being wicked is weakness.)
And so, simply to fill that temporary gap
in his cast of characters he invented a jolly, twinkle-eyed,
much-married, bawdy-song-singing, unrepentant old witch named Nanny
Ogg. After many books she remains one of his most popular creations, the perfect foil for Granny
Weatherwax. Clearly these were the kind of life-long best friends
who couldn’t go ten minutes without an argument.
God knows I am not
trying to compare myself to the brilliant Sir Terry. But it is
clear that at many levels of the writing ladder an author can take good
advantage of a character who seemed to be only designed to fill a space
on the set.
Ray Ray and Nanny Ogg are necessary evils who turned out to be pretty useful Sort of like a trip to the laundromat.
Speaking of which, you will have to excuse me. The driers have stopped.