Behind the door

My father once told me that in JRR Tolkien’s writings he talks about the creation of Strider, describing how the hobbits entered a room in the inn and ‘there was a man behind the door, and I did not know who he was’.  Aragorn, the human around whom a huge part of the Lord of the Rings story revolves, was introduced as a random throw-in and evolved from there.  (I’m not sure how apocryphal this might be, since I also know perfectly well that Strider partly evolved from the character of Trotter in earlier drafts, a roaming hobbit who was considered weird for wearing shoes.  But this is not the point.)

Most of the time I have a hard time imagining how this could be – I know vastly more about my characters than will even appear in this story; how could I possibly include someone who has no plan at all?  And then it happens and it happens and it feels electric.  Then I’ve got my heroine and her friend watching a street circus and I decide to have a mime vault in over the juggler’s shoulders, catch a torch, and put it out with a magical puff of breeze.  I flipflop for a moment over whether this mime should be male or female, consider revising an earlier reference, and settle on male.  Then I realise that even the throwaway bit of magic is vitally important, because by my rules that will make him immune to the villain’s control later on.  No sense not using that bit, so let’s have him form some kind of connection with one of the characters.  Haldis?  Are all of her friends dudes?  No, let’s link him to the doctor.  Actually… let’s make him smitten with the doctor.  And he’s a mime – in fact, what if he actually is mute?  Ooh, and I’ve established that he’s from the same country as the visiting noblewoman; how about their aristocracy developed hand-sign to communicate silently in a formal setting and it’s been adopted by deaf/mute people?  And his name will be… Simon?  Théo.  Do I really want to type that alt-code every time*?  Well, better than letting people pronounce it ‘Theo’.  Yes.

I wanted a mime to douse a torch in an impressive way and I ended up worldbuilding, giving Lukas a new romantic interest, and having another fun bantering scene (to the best of a mime’s ability to banter) before the attempted mind control and fallback to attempted murder.  It was a good weekend.

I still can’t imagine what it’s like for people who start NaNoWriMo with zero planning.  Do they feel like this all the time?

*I actually kind of like alt-codes.  There’s no real justification for this; I just do.  It’s like a special move, inputting a sequence of taps to unleash a spectacular and strange technique upon the page.  “é” is the Hadouken of word processing.

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6 comments on “Behind the door

  1. anamardoll says:

    I have nothing valuable to add, except that this is lovely. :)

    Well, and I’m not sure how to pronounce Theo with the tag. *shame* “Th-ay-o”?

  2. Will Wildman says:

    Pretty much. In French, the accent aigu (é) makes e into an ‘ay’ sound and the accent grave (è) is more like ‘air’ minus the r. (At least, it is the way I pronounce ‘air’, but after much discussion with fellow slacktivite Sarah, it has become obvious that the many accents of North America make direct comparisons to other words a fraught business.) I also considered re-spelling it Thayo, but I’m trying to stick entirely to real-world names, and I will not discriminate against accented logography.

  3. Sixwing says:

    Mm. I get TE-o out of that. Rhymes roughly with Latin “deo,” and with the emphasis in the same place.

    Also, that character sounds -awesome.-

  4. Will Wildman says:

    I’m never totally sure when it comes to French – I thought the sound was somewhere between the soft TH and hard T, but: this language, I do not speak it. Just last night a co-worker was explaining that his last name (Albert) is not pronounced ‘al-Bear’ like I would have guessed, but something more like ‘al-Bar’ with the B almost sounding like a V and the A being this throaty sound that is very cool but I don’t yet have a knack for.

    However I’m mangling it, yes, Théo is very cool. It’s one of those things where I have to resist making him Unstoppably Awesome just because I’m so enamored of the basic concept. Wizard Acrobat Mime!

    (Obligatory Victor Borge reference: “I knew a man once who tried to learn Danish, and – (sigh) – he drowned.”)

  5. frasersherman says:

    No, 90 percent of the time I feel like everything on my first draft is a hideous mess. I get the sense of satisfaction two or three (or more) drafts later when I suddenly see how it all makes sense.

  6. Will Wildman says:

    Oh, it is still a hideous mess, because I cheerfully retcon myself two scenes after something happens and some of my characters are endlessly meeting with each other to discuss stuff that’s happening off-page and et cetera. It’s rubbish. But I am enforcing pride in the rubbish and trying to focus on how much I can celebrate that top 10%. As the saying goes, 90% of everything is always junk.

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