Monday, April 27, 2009

Literary Discussion Continued

A few days ago we were talking about what people look for in a protagonist and there were lots of interesting thoughts posted in the comments. One comment, however, came to me via email, from Bo Parker aka The Old Word Cobbler. And since it kind of ties in with an on-going question of my own, I'm posting it (with his permission) here.

Bo says: "As I chewed my way into the craft of writing a mystery novel, creating a main character out of figments of my imagination, I had to stop and ask. Who is this guy? What does he stand for? What makes him tick? Once my mind was fixed on the guy's core values and if I were to keep him true to his core values, I had to consider the scenes into which he would be placed, how he would react to different situations, different people, his actions, reactions, and even dialogue, how he would talk, what he would say."

Bo continues:"I recently read a novel in Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series that in my opinion demonstrates how this works, or I should say, did not work, at least for me, and was part of the reason I asked the question via DorothyL about characters staying at home. Over the course of seventeen books, I had come to form an opinion about the character China Bayles, based on her interactions with family and friends in and around the fictional town of Pecan Springs.

However, in the latest book, WORMWOOD, China is pulled out of Pecan Springs, removed from all family, all close personal friends, and put on the road with a person who is more business than personal friend. For the rest of the story, China is in a totally foreign environment, a Shaker Settlement in Kentucky.

"The story is well presented as to how a character would conduct themselves as an outsider. However, in my opinion, she is a totally different in this setting. For me, it created an impression of a character that I did not find as compelling, enjoyable, unique, or as strong as the China Bayles I'd come to know in Pecan Springs. If this book and one of the earlier ones in the series were given to separate groups; each asked to read their book and write an analysis of China Bayles, my bet is that there would be two totally different reactions as to China Bayles' character."

That was what Bo asked. And it got me thinking. As some of you may remember, my first attempt at a novel (never published) featured Elizabeth on vacation at the coast of NC. I think that she stayed pretty true to herself -- after all, she's a bit of an outsider back in Marshall County, being a transplant from Florida - and she's an outsider at the coast. But the question under discussion over on Dorothy L was whether you want your series to stay put or whether you're okay with excursions.

It's just idle curiosity that make me ask. I have, at present, no plans to take Elizabeth out of the mountains. But I'm interested to know what others think. Would you like to read about our girl off some where else -- pony trekking in Paraguay . . . sightseeing in Samoa . . . visiting in Vermont . . . or doing anything, anywhere away from the mountains?

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KarenB said...

There are series to which place is an integral part of the story, either the same setting, as in your books, or different settings, as in Laurie R. King's books. For a writer I can see that keeping a series, particularly a mystery series, in one setting presents difficulties. I remember Louise Penny saying at Bouchercon that she was going to have to take Gamache out of Three Pines as soon there would be no one left to populate the town. Removing a character from a familiar setting allows for new characters and new experiences, although it shouldn't change the personality of the main character. I can't comment on the new China Bayles as I have not gotten my hands on it yet.

I don't think Elizabeth needs to travel far for your series as yet. The back stories you use embody that particular region so profoundly that to remove her from that setting would be rather disconcerting. Of course, if you did, and employed a back story of a mountain person displaced, the unease or sense of displacement both would feel would have a profound impact on the book. Interesting thought!

Tess Kincaid said...

Keep her in the mountains.

Thanks for the inspiration. I might just have to write a book on my Bright brothers!

Carol Murdock said...

I wouldn't want to see Elizabeth leave her surroundings Vicki. She is very much at home there and you capture place so well.A trip somewhere with a mystery to solve would be OK as long as she returned
home at the end.I love reading place as much as the character.
I choose books based on place more often than not.

Vicki Lane said...

Karen - an interesting thought -- a mountain person displaced.

Willow --certainly the tragedy you blogged about today would make a wonderful hook on which to hang a novel! Do it!

Carol -- your comment about reading for place as much as character is just what various editors said in turning down my book with Elizabeth at the coast.

And I know I feel the same -- I don't like it when Hillerman's characters stray far from Navajo country.

I guess this means I shouldn't look forward to writing off a trip to Paraguay as research. ;-)

Unknown said...

For me, I would much rather have the strangers come to Elizabeth. You (and she) are comfortable in those mountains and it comes through in your stories. That said, I really enjoyed the Melungeons and your visits to the past - almost like a journey to an unfamiliar place. Any word from Herself on Miss Birdie?

Vicki Lane said...

True enough, Liz, re setting.

No word yet from Herself . . . believe me, as soon as I hear anything it will be a blog post! But I can't whine, as I kept her waiting so very long in the first place.

Christine said...

I think it depends on the character. For example, in Sue Grafton's books, Kinsey Millhone seems a bit flat to me until you get her out of Santa Teresa. My favorite of hers was the one where she's kidnapped by a group of gangsters and the girlfriend of the ringleader brings out another facet of Kinsey's personality.

As for Elizabeth, I think she's most at home in the mountains, so her true personality will shine there.

Reader Wil said...

Though I call myself Reader, I must confess that since I started this blog, I haven't had time to read much. In Australia last summer, where I didn't use my computer, I had time to read a lot. So I am afraid I cannot comment on the books you mentioned. You mentioned a SF novel in which a member of the House of Orange was ruling the world and even colonies on other planets.God forbid!! I like our royalty, but they shouldn't get any power! Their task is to be a ceremonial symbol, like the flag and the national anthem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and also for your visit. Have a great week.

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Christine -- you're definitely with the majority here!

And Reader Wil -- in the book I mentioned over on your blog, the "Emperor" was a figurehead -- and giver of good advice -- but without real power -- a ceremonial symbol like your own queen

Gary Carden said...

I've been teaching Appalachian literature in elderhostels for 35 years and one of the favorite themes that has emerged is of a protagonist who is separated from Appalachia and must find a way to return. They don't always physically leave since it is possible to be alienated from your culture while you are in the midst of it (Silas House), but you may leave and find that you must return to your roots in order to survive (Dollmaker and Jim Wayne Miller.

Vicki Lane said...

Good points, Gary. And well worth exploring.

I know there's still lots to say about the area my stories are set in -- I believe I was just attacked by a little envy thinking of writers who get to travel to exotic places in the name of research . . .