Sometimes, Nine > Fourteen

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.


Suddenly, the Reader is Warned!

Suddenly, a hand darted out of the darkness!

Suddenly, all the lamps went out.

Suddenly, he dropped his sword and ran.

Suddenly, the reader is warned that something sudden is coming!

Why do we warn them? What is the purpose of the one-word red flag?
Except in cases where we want our readers to know that a possibly casual event was sudden (He suddenly snatched up a handful of paper-mache), the “suddenly” warning defies the very idea of suddenness.

If your hero is to have no warning that her foe is about to drop his blade and scarper, the lamps are about to go out, and a hand is about to dart at her from the darkness, why should your reader?

Yes, it might take some work to smooth the prose over without suddenly‘s aid, but hey– good writing takes work.

What do you reckon? Does suddenly give a subtly lame edge to riveting action?