Mysst is my oldest character, for all she’s the youngest of my cast. She got her start when I was twelve, as my alter-ego unwritten-fanfic persona. She/I was a sword swingin’ Redwall otter. Yeah. You read that right.
When I first heard of National Novel Writing Month at fourteen, I decided to build her a story world, turn her human, and make her — surprise! — fourteen.
I failed at 30,000 words of dull traveling scenes and a combination of cliché and totally ridiculous drama. Still, it was a victory for my writing career; for one, it started me noveling. For another, there were a few gold nuggets in my pile of words.
Mysst, unfortunately, wasn’t one of them.
Failing to see that she’d devolved into a whiney, wishey-washey bore, I started in on her tale again the next year. Thank heavens Syawn hijacked that one early.
A year and another NaNoWriMo later, I’d finished the story. And boy, was Mysst still lame. Not to mention a little daft. Her main quest, which was intrinsic to the plot, was incredibly simple-minded.
Then inspiration, that fickle, occasionally abusive friend of writers, struck.
I rolled back the years, turning her into a nine-year-old, and with it, making an entirely different person of her. Without my trying to make her anything but five years younger, she overhauled her own character (I can only imagine she had been waiting for just such an opportunity), turning into a tough, disciplined little firebrand, a bossyboots with a wide stubborn streak and surprising adaptability.
She was exactly the kind of girl who would dream up a madcap plan and fly after it on the triple-wings of determination, guilt, and fool’s hope.
So there’s a trick to remember when your character isn’t shaping up: screw around with the numbers. It can turn out that, against all mathematical wisdom, nine is greater than fourteen.