Lucia, pale with fury, laid down her pen and waited for the situation to develop. She hoped she would behave like a lady, but was quite sure it would be a firm sort of lady.
Lucia … must be magnanimous and encourage no public exposure, whatever it might be, of Elizabeth’s conduct, but for the pickling of the rod of discipline she would like to hear about it quietly.
Second challenge: once a character has been established, a writer must take care not to have the character do anything that contradicts the brief the reader has been given, no matter how convenient it might be for the writer. Fluffing this is very bad. It can make a reader feel cheated and in extreme cases results in what’s popularly termed a wall-banger (book hurled energetically at nearest vertical surface). It’s something to watch out for not just within a book, but from book to book in a series. The Countess Conspiracy, by one of my favorite historical authors, Courtney Milan, was reviewed recently on the smartbitchestrashybooks blog and the reviewer, Carrie S, felt that the character of the Countess in question (Violet) was not consistent with the way she had been portrayed in previous books. Here’s point 3 of Carrie’s review:
This is part of a series of stand-alone books that are loosely connected, so we’ve seen most of these characters before. I have no memory of Violet being so angry and bitter. Am I misremembering her? Her appearance in The Duchess War (Carrie’s Grade: A+) is one of a fun, playful, warm person. Maybe the disconnect just reflects Violet’s carefully crafted public persona versus her interior life, but it was jarring. I couldn’t recognize her.
Third challenge: even if the character’s actions are credible, if they’re so obvious that the reader always knows what’s coming next, why should they bother to read on? If the response to a key scene is an eye-roll and ‘well, doh,’ or ‘about time,’ rather than ‘wow, yeah,’ then all the good work from the initial scene has been wasted. This happens to me on TV or at the movies more often than with books, probably because I tend to read based on recommendations from people I trust.
So what I’m trying to do as I work through my re-write is to disregard Rose, and Ian, and Sasha’s first most logical response, and the second, and probably the third, and try to find something that’s entirely in character, but unexpected: the reader doesn’t see it coming, but when revealed, it makes total sense. I’m aiming for the kind of reaction I had when I first read Megan Whalen Turner’s Young Adult book, The Thief. It’s the story of Eugenides (Gen), a boy who is rescued from prison by a powerful Magus who wants him to steal a legendary gem from a sacred temple. Gen has secrets and a plan of his own, which gradually becomes apparent as the plot unfolds. I can’t explain how excellent the character development is without being spoiler-y, but for me this book was one perfectly constructed surprise after another. Like many of the characters in the story, I kept thinking of course! when it was all too late. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
Have you read or watched anything lately where the character took you by surprise, in a good or not-so-good way?