Know Your Limits…
So far, I’ve looked at characters who are being developed from nothing, but even they have to be shaped by the environmental factors of their world to some extent. More on world-building later… much later! But what about writing for characters that stick with you after the book has finished, or after the TV show has ended? Most TV shows have been based on books – so the entire script, including all the new storylines, is a form of fan fiction, particularly if the writers are fans of the original novel or concept. Other franchises include spin-off novels, with ‘companion’ books being commissioned with new stories not seen on TV.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a case in point; as is Dr Who, Torchwood, and, most obviously, Sherlock Holmes, who has new incarnations on the small and big screen and maintains its popularity despite the differences between the interpretations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated sociopathic (discuss) detective.
You can now even buy the Nicky Heat novels, which are bestselling crime novels written by the *fictional* crime-writer/crime-fighter, Richard Castle in the TV show, um, well, Castle. The novels even have Richard Castle’s name on them and his photo on the back of the cover (or rather, actor Nathan Fillion in character as Castle) and we may never learn the true identity of the ghost writer.
Not quite the same but similar are the Bones books/TV series by Kathy Reichs, whose protagonist Temperance “Bones” Brennan writes bestselling novels about a pahologist called… Kathy Reichs. Trippy.
The problem with being a writer who deals with this kind of quality derivation, whether in a screenplay or in novel form, is that there are limits within which you must work, and develop the character. Why? Because the audience/readership already know the character inside out and backwards. And if you change anything about their psychology (see my previous post) they will know. And they will not be pleased.
You also have the challenge of creating new characters from scratch with whom the characters will interact. Changing the characters and developing them more deeply, or exposing different sides to them, depends on the circumstances they are placed under and the kinds of people they meet. So the difficulties of writing for this market are twofold. You have to make their responses completely believable, while not permitting the established character to overwhelm the story and draw focus from the new characters, who also need to be three-dimensional and just as well developed as the MCs themselves.
This is why writing good quality derivative or ‘fan’ fiction is difficult, and a skill that takes practice, fine tuning, and lots of quality research.
In the same way that Historical Fiction writers have to immerse themselves in their chosen period in order to get a feel for the zeitgeist of the era, so a writer with this task to accomplish must immerse themselves in a world not of their making, in order to see where the limits are, and what they can expand upon. There is nearly always also space for something new, and one such writer, Cheryl Rosecrans, elaborated on this for me.
I was asked by Melissa how I developed the MC for Born of Fire and Ice: Daniel’s Story. In a way its sort of easy since I write FF and the main characters have to fall within certain parameters. Daniel’s character is a bit different. He is a copy of the Doctor created from an accident in space. He carries all the memories of his progenitors but from the moment he steps out of the ship he becomes a unique individual as do all children. Well, except that he is a fully grown man from his inception. Daniel has grown from the insecure, damaged individual unsure of his surroundings, mistrustful of the people around him and determined not to be like his progenitor. That is difficult since he physically looks the same. Daniel struggles to be a separate individual with his own goals. He is unsure at first about the most mundane things of life. He is a gentle person with a fierce, almost pathological need to be independent. He is as brilliant as his progenitor but would rather take pictures and teach special-ed children than run around the universe.
I came up with my view of the Doctor’s alternate because to me the original version made no sense. An individual would not take kindly to being dumped in the arms of another man’s lover even when he shared that man’s emotional attachment. He would want to be seen as an individual not a copy. That’s Daniel’s journey, becoming an individual whilst being drawn back into a life that he’s expected to want. Daniel’s inner strength shines despite health issues, and the expectation of others. He gives up one love finds another, builds a life only to be confronted with tragedy and finally acceptance of his life with his first love.
In the TV series, we never find out what happened to the alternate Doctor after the replication. He is handed over to Rose, who has been in love with the Doctor since the first Christopher Eccleston series of the show (the Doctor keeps regenerating and comes back as different men played by different actors – see here if you’re unfamiliar with it!)
Cheryl has also filled in the gaps in another Dr Who novel, inspired to write it because of her experience with someone who has PTSD. She felt that the Doctor and the world that she loved was the perfect platform to write what she felt needed to be written.
That novel is Broken: The Story of a Time Lord. Even if you’re not a fan and only have the most basic knowledge of Dr Who, Cheryl’s work is accesible and a good read.
For Broken, Cheryl created new characters and planets, developed new cultures, and took a trip into the broken psyche of a PTSD sufferer.
One of the new characters she created was K’Nar, and she told me a little bit about developing a new character to fit into a pre-existing world.
Since I write Doctor Who, the basic character of the Doctor and most BBC companions are set, although I like to take them out and play with them. The fun comes in developing original characters that come out feeling real; a person that you might meet next door or at the corner market. The hardest character for me was a little girl named K’Nar in Broken: The Story of a Time Lord.
K’Nar came from a highly structured world where rules of conduct are lived by without question. The planet is home to a race of shapeshifting telepaths capable of changing another being’s very brain. Out of fear of abuse the laws are a religion. This is the world K’Nar is born into and kidnapped from. She is sold into slavery and forced to shape shift into horrible creatures which in turn forces her to break those laws. She suffers it all, convincing her captors that she is blindly obedient.
I based K’Nar on Muslim teen girls who suffer degradation in their countries for the crime of being intelligent young women. She grew out of the stories told about the horrors those young women suffer. When they break the laws of their countries, it is to achieve something for the greater good. For K’Nar the greater good was saving a kind and gentle man being tortured to force him to give up something that could destroy the universe.
The bravery of K’Nar makes her my favourite character thus far. The story however contained several examples of women all struggling to overcome an obstacle to help a stranger.
The challenge in writing fan fiction is to make it mean something, not just copy the adventures on the screen. I hope I’ve done that.
She has also tackled the difficult issues such as slavery in her Historical/FF novel, The Pilot and his Lady, set in the Deep South in 1858.