Monday, May 11, 2009

Apocalypses final project: Character Auditions

The London Party is an apocalyptic novel I've been planning for awhile. In this apocalypse, the veil between the planes of the living and dead breaks, and humanity is all but snuffed out by the escaping flood of dead things. The story centers around a group of survivors in the British Isles who are learning to live in this new world.

My initial plan this semester was to dick around in the world of this novel. I was going to write some little snippets from different perspectives around the world, figure out the rules for this particular apocalypse, and maybe end up with a first chapter or something.

But then I started writing first-person POV vignettes from characters experiencing this apocalypse and kind of fell in love with some of them. And since the novel was planned as first person alternating POV, "dicking around in the world" turned into "auditioning first-person POV characters." I had one already picked (the character who gets the first chapter - more on her later), but I knew the whole story couldn't be told from her limited perspective, and the rest of the slots were wide open.

These are the vignettes I've posted here, in chronological order (Jacob's is about twelve hours into the apocalypse, Molly's is a few days after). Each has a link to the entry with the vignette, followed by my thoughts on the character and my decision on whether they made the cut.

Jacob Reuben, age 23
Made the cut? Yes.

Poor Jacob. He doomed himself in his first paragraph - slight emotional detachment? grim sense of humor? Rice Crispies joke? I was hooked on him immediately. I know he's got a medical science-related job, so that will give him a unique perspective on this utterly non-scientific version of the apocalypse.

I wanted to have one character who's around my age. I also wanted to have one character travel a long way to meet up with the rest of the main cast in London, and Jacob is in the perfect position to do that. He's young, able-bodied, smart, and in Paris at the time the veil breaks. Which means he's going to take a 35-mile hike through the Chunnel in the dark. I've wanted to write that since I read about the Chunnel's lasting construction properties in The World Without Us earlier this semester.

Oh, Jacob. You really shouldn't have made that Rice Crispies joke.

Gabriel Jackson, age 6
Made the cut? No.

I wanted to try out the apocalypse through a kid's eyes. Then I made myself sad. Gabe was an interesting exercise, but aside from the obvious incompatibility with the story (he's somewhere in the Bible Belt, and that location is kind of important to his character), he didn't have anything particularly special to add to the story I'm going for.

I don't think Gabe survives the apocalypse. The dead probably reach him and his mom a little while after this.

And now I've made myself sad again.

Jessie Shumaker, also age 23
Made the cut? No.

I really liked Jessie. She's got a strong voice and her own complete story within this apocalypse, including some of my favorite themes (protection of loved ones, family, Oregon Trail jokes). But her story centers around her brother - she doesn't really care about the world ending, or about her own survival. I'm not sure how well it would work to take a character with that little investment in the world at large and use her in a plot that deals with, y'know, the world at large. So I won't.

Plus she kind of pulled herself out of the running at the end of that vignette.

Thomas Lyon, age 36
Made the cut? Yes.

Thomas was slated to be in the book from the beginning, but not as a POV character. In my original idea, he's the guy who shows up early on to save Sherwood (my first POV character - more later), then gets horribly gutted by dead things thirty pages in. He's a bastard with a little heroic streak in him, and he was going to get a good martyr death.

Until I wrote him first-person.

See, I have a bit of a problem with bastard characters - I love writing them. And Thomas is a really fun bastard to write. He's snarky, grumpy, and generally kind of a dick to those around him, but he's also pretty observant and has a cool head in a crisis. I needed a character with his crisis management skills, anyway, and I had a lot of fun writing him, so his role in the story got expanded from heroic martyr to POV character.

Thomas also has a bit of a mystery about him - what's this guy do for a living? Why the knife collection? Why's he such a jerk? - and since writing his vignette I've come up with some interesting backstory for him. His history is tied in with Sherwood's, and that's going to be really important for both of them.

Out of everyone here, Thomas is easily the biggest winner. He started off as a tertiary character with a death sentence and wound up a main cast member with the most interesting history of anyone in the book.

Walt Kripke, age 43
Made the cut? No.

Walt exists because I made a one-off joke about a possessed Starbucks barista in Jacob's scene, and the idea entertained me too much not to write about it. I like to think that Búri took over this poor barista back when the dead were first filtering into the city, and the as-of-yet unpossessed news crews descended on the Starbucks hoping for a human interest story. But Walt wasn't watching the news, so he's a bit late.

I don't like Walt, and I wouldn't want to spend a whole book with him, so he's not getting any part in the novel. He probably gets throttled by Búri while he's trying to make his call and dies whining.

Molly LeFleur, age 31
Made the cut? Yes.

Emphatically yes! Molly is a lot of fun to write, and she's just what I needed for a morbid apocalyptic story: a cheerful, upbeat character who's unfazed by the dead.

For a while now, I've had an image of one of the big events of the book sketched out in my head. Half the main cast is arriving in London on a stolen bus, and when it stops outside the survivors' headquarters, a plump red-haired woman hops up the steps of the bus, a massive gun slung over her shoulder, and welcomes them to the end of the world with a grin. This is going to be Molly. She's the only person in the world who can actually kill the dead, and she's just tickled to be so useful (or she will be - not so much yet in her vignette).

Everyone who survives this apocalypse has something special about them - an ability of some sort that will be enhanced after the veil breaks and help them survive in the new world. Molly is a weapon. Jacob is a compass. Thomas has a connection to other planes, but I haven't decided yet exactly what that enables him to do or how.

Which brings us to the eyes.

Sherwood Avery, age 17 (opens a PDF)

This is the first chapter of the eventual novel. It takes place a few days before the veil breaks. The novel kicks off with Sherwood's perspective because she is, like it or not, the only living person who has any clue that something big is about to happen.

I like Sherwood. She's got a tough shell, a soft heart, and a psychic foot in the door to the end of the world. In the end, The London Party is going to be as much about Sherwood holding her family together as it is about this group of survivors holding humanity together. She's at the heart of the story in more ways than one.

Like most first chapters I write, this one will probably sit on a shelf for a year or two before I actually follow through on it and write the rest of the book. But it's started now, and it's got a cast I enjoy and the beginnings of some neat story elements. I'll definitely come back to it, someday when I have the time - I'm already excited to write more of these characters.

So I'd say this was a pretty successful audition.

Edited to add: bonus first draft scene from somewhere in the middle of the book, testing out Sherwood's POV. It's not very good, but it shows a hint at how Thomas and Sherwood are connected.


  1. These are great. Interesting and well written, with a perfectly natural cadence. Background information and explanations are slipped in expertly, without feeling at all forced. Well done.

  2. I'm in awe. This is great writing. I can't wait to read more. And if you want someone to read and give feedback, put me on your list!

    (and if you have other writing out there that I can find and read, let me know. I'd really like to read it!)

  3. Absolutely fantastic. Really enjoyed these snippets (arrived via a link to the Wrestling Buddies & Unicorns post -- enjoyed that and looked 'round.) Hope you finish the book sometime and hope even more that it finds a publisher, I'd love to read the rest of these folks stories.


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