Friday, April 8, 2016

Character Origins: Andrew Gold

I've been thinking a lot about villains in my work lately. I almost wrote a post today about why I hope Kyle Ren doesn't get a redemption arc in Star Wars 9 (put a pin in that, I might circle back to it). So, naturally I decided to discuss the origin of...


Actually, no... let's talk about spoilers for a second.

For the past few months I've been running this blog, I keep coming to things I want to talk about but can't because they're spoilers for my book. And all the time I'm thinking to myself, "Who even reads this blog? Anyone (legitimate question, I'm afraid)? Have they read my first book or are they "auditioning" me to decide whether it's worth the 5 bucks?" (There's a 1 in 5 chance it won't be, according to the kind folks who hand out stars at Goodreads). So, can I write spoilers in my posts? Would that ruin the ending most people agree is a highlight of my book?

And I guess my heart still says, "No, you can't spoil anything in your blog. Someone will be disappointed." And then my mind says, "Yeah, but if they read your second book they're going to be spoiled anyway," and so on.

No major spoilers here, but I'm going to talk about the character Andrew Gold for a moment assuming you've read my book or honestly don't care about spoiling the ending. OMG, does that mean he's the killer? Maybe, maybe not... just go read the book already, sheesh.

Andrew was originally two characters, and both developed near the end of the original character creation process. Corinne, Jessica, Ashley, Kristina, David, Shane, Baxter, Benjamin... they were all characters before Andrew and 'Steve.' Yes, there was, at one point, a character named 'Steve' in The Tide Washed Her Away. Steve was based loosely on a friend of mine from high school named... Steve. Inventive, I know. The name would have changed eventually, but I dropped him in favor of making David a larger part of the story and consolidated a few things about him into the Andrew character.

Basically, Steve was in love with Kristina but Andrew was dating her at the time. Kristina was the focus of a love-triangle between two men, which I found somewhat sexist when I really thought about it. So I...

SPOILER ALERT. Seriously this time.

So I inverted the love triangle paradigm to make the guy the center, which oddly enough was still sexist. And I got to thinking: what is it about love triangles that makes women look so bad? Because the women are often defined only by their desire for the man, and differentiated only by the degree to which they are a good fit with the man. It was clear that, in order to avoid being sexist, I needed to approach the situation with a gentle touch, avoiding shallow motivations and stereotypical characters. Oh, but by no means does that mean a character can't be shallow, just as long as the shallowness is a well-established element of their character (ahem, Kristina, ahem) and makes sense within the context of the book's greater universe. But most importantly, I needed to avoid using Andrew to define either of the women. I feel like I accomplished that by developing the women before Andrew was even a character, but what if I defined the man by the women in his life?

Andrew isn't a particularly likeable person. He's a cheater, for one. But worse off, he's lying to himself about who he is in order to impress a girl. His entire character is defined by the women in his life. If he were a female character, I would be roasted alive for being absurdly sexist. But as I wrote this pathetic creature into existence, I started to sympathize. I too chased after a girl who wasn't interested in me, and nearly wasted a good chunk of my high school life doing so. I latched onto the idea of a character who has sacrificed so much of himself to impress a woman who sees him as a status symbol and nothing more, and built the rest from there.

But I never really came around to sympathizing with Andrew until I wrote the scene where he says goodbye to Corinne. I saw all the sacrifice he had given to Kristina, and how somewhere along the way the baggage of that sacrifice meant he couldn't let go of her and love the woman who actually loved him back for who he was. It was heartbreakingly dumb, but understandable at the same time. It's like a gambler being unable to stop himself from betting over and over because he's already lost so much already. From the outside, it's clearly the wrong choice, but mentally he's had to justify those sacrifices for years. Eventually, the weight of the sacrifices he made to stay with Kristina was what kept him tied to her, rather than any sort of love. So because of that weight he made the wrong choice, and everyone suffered for it.

I won't say much more, but Andrew's developed a lot inside my head since his creation. Like Jessica and all the other living characters from The Tide Washed Her Away, he returns in my next book. As of the end of The Tide Washed Her Away, he and Kristina are still a couple. But, I hate the idea of characters who don't grow as a series progresses, so expect both Andrew and Kristina to have changed somewhat by the beginning of They Hid In The Snowstorm (working title). You can't be engaged to one person and fall in love with another without consequences to your relationship with your fiancee, unless of course she really never loved you in the first place. But if your fiancee never loved you, is that a relationship worth continuing for Andrew or Kristina? And how has Andrew changed now that he's had time to process Corinne's death without also being treated as a suspect? Hmm.... These are things I think about as I drive to work in the morning, and hope I remember when I sit down to write 14 hours later after my daughter and wife have gone to bed.