Thursday, March 12, 2015

Visualizing Characters

French commander in American Revolution
A few days ago I ran across a picture that’s so close to how I visualize one of my characters that I’m almost giddy! Take a look at the beautiful portrait at the left. It portrays Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, who was commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force that embarked from France in 1780 to fight with the American Continental Army against British forces.

Carleton’s maternal uncle, le comte de Caledonne, a French admiral who’s very influential in the court of Louis XVI, is mentioned a number of times in Crucible of War. He’ll finally make an appearance in Valley of the Shadow and will have a bigger role in book 6, Refiner’s Fire. So I was delighted to find this portrait of Rochambeau because he’s almost a twin to Caledonne! The portrait was not only very helpful when I wrote Caledonne’s description, but I also referred to it often as I wrote his scenes. It gave me a better feel for the character.

I’ve collected a number of portraits that are reasonable facsimiles for some of my characters. One of these days when I’m between projects, I intend to add pages to the series website where I can post pictures of both fictional and real characters who appear in the series. This will definitely be one of them.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Sagging Middles and Family Feuds

family feuds
By the time I finished writing Crucible of War, I’d been pondering over and scribbling down notes for Valley of the Shadow for some time. Although I had a number of ideas about what was going to happen following Carleton’s attack on British-held New York Harbor, I was really afraid that it would all be an anti-climax and that the middle would sag. Readers tend to check out of a story when that happens, and, since this is a series, if they do, they won’t read the next volume either. Or the next.

That brought up another issue. I’m now past the middle of this series (at least I hope so!). And there’s also a danger of the middle of the series itself sagging, especially with one this long. My goal is to keep the full sweep of the story so enthralling, the characters so believable, and their fate so gripping that readers keep coming back for the next installment until everything’s finally resolved in the end. That’s a big challenge when you’re talking about 7, maybe 8, volumes—or even more, which some authors have accomplished.

So how am I doing so far? That’s for readers to decide, of course. But as far as Valley is concerned, they’re definitely not going to encounter a sagging middle. Once I dug deeply into the historical context, I discovered more than enough material to keep things moving along at a nail-biting pace as far as the factual side of the story is concerned. And my characters are certainly doing their part to keep things cooking on the fictional side too.

On a personal level, I really hate conflict. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it unless I’m backed into a corner. But with my characters—well, I LOVE it when they argue! There’s just something about a good, cathartic dog and cat fight that makes me laugh. And I’ve been doing a whole lot of that the past few weeks as a couple of major confrontations that have been simmering in the background suddenly came to a full boil. It’s so much fun to write zingers, and, boy, in the middle of this story, everybody is giving everybody else the back of their tongue.

Except for Elizabeth and Jonathan, that is. In the midst of all the chaos, the lovebirds are still doing their thing—or at least trying to.

You do know that reality is going to impinge at some point, of course. But I’m not giving away any spoilers. You’ll have to read the book to find out about that, and if I don’t get busy, I’m not going to make the pub deadline. But in the meantime, be sure to check back here from time to time for updates on how the various altercations are going!