Saturday, January 30, 2016

Character Development and Pacing--Make Room for Quiet Moments

Before I even start this post, I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my Los Nefilim series. Your reviews, good or bad, mean the world to me, because while I am sure of my story and skill, I still enjoy seeing what resonates--or what doesn't--for the readers. The fact that all of you are just as busy as I am, and still take those few minutes to comment, simply makes me appreciate your reviews that much more.

One thing everyone seems very unified about (so far, anyway) is the relationship between Diago and Miquel, and the quiet family moments that involve Diago's son, Rafael. These are what some readers might call the boring bits, but I never do. I place these familial scenes within the story, not just for character development, but also to help the pacing.

When I worked in radio--many, many, many years ago--I was told to think of the musical segments as waves. Begin with a soft tune, then choose songs that gradually build the tempo until the third or fourth song was upbeat and fast before moving the pace back toward softer music.

The technique was all about pacing the music so that the sounds would be pleasing to the listener. We do the same thing in stories by making the action rise and fall in a logical manner.

Even in shorter works, such as novellas, readers need a little breathing room between the action scenes, or in cases such as The Second Death: Los Nefilim, Part 3, before the action takes off. Most often, I use these scenes as a break from the action, but every now and then, I start the story with them, especially in one like The Second Death.

The logic behind beginning with an intimate scene in The Second Death was to bring the reader back up to speed with what had transpired in Without Light or Guide: Los Nefilim, Part 2 while adding enough new content to keep the reader engaged. My key to making these scenes work is keeping them short and intimate through the use of dialogue.

In this snippet, which is about 600 words, I am reminding the reader of how other members of Los Nefilim view Diago, and by extension daimons, through the peripheral character Lucia, an angel-born Nefil who hates daimons. Since I didn't want to give any spoilers, I had to choose one of the more innocuous conversations for this post.

For those new to the series: Rafael is Diago's six-year-old son, and Miquel is Diago's partner.

Diago followed Rafael into the bathroom and picked up his comb.
“No! No!” Rafael ran his wet fingers over his unruly locks. “You don’t need to comb it, Papa. I’m Gitano.” He shook his head. “My hair is wild like my spirit.”
“Wild spirits in this house comb their hair.” Diago grabbed a towel and wiped his son’s damp fingers. Stray hairs drifted into the sink’s basin and joined those of Miquel and Diago. He wiped the strands off the porcelain. “It looks like a family of bears lives here.”
Rafael giggled and raised his arms over his head, hands clenched like claws. He roared until the comb snagged a tangle. “Ow!”
Diago leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Then stay still. Even bear cubs don’t wiggle when their papas comb their hair.” 
“Bears don’t comb their hair.” The child’s busy fingers found a chip in the sink’s porcelain. “When I’m grown up, I’m never combing my hair.”
“Don’t you want to look nice for Ysa today?”
He picked at the sink’s scar. “I want to stay home today.”
“You can stay with Lucia and Ysa for a little while.”
Rafael said nothing.
“Don’t you like playing with Ysa?”
“Yes.” Rafael rubbed his thumb around the chip.
“So?” Diago worked his fingers through a snarled lock and held his breath. Had he and Ysa fought? A generous girl, Ysa could sometimes be overbearing, but Diago had never known her to intentionally hurt another person. “Why don’t you want to go?”
He shrugged.
Diago kept his tone even as a suspicion caught up with him. “Is it Lucia?”
A moment passed and Diago thought Rafael wasn’t going to answer him. Finally, his son nodded.
“And what does she say?” Because it was Lucia, it had to be something out of her vicious mouth.
Another shrug. “Just things.”
“What kind of things?”
“She said I should never go to Morocco, because I am small and dark like a monkey. She said someone would see that I am daimon and stuff me in a bottle and make me a jinni. Then she laughs like it’s a joke, but her eyes are all hard and mean.”
Lucia. Ysabel’s governess made no secret of her hatred for Diago, which was fine with him, but taking her pettiness out on Rafael was a step too far.
Diago was careful to keep his anger out of his face and voice. He didn’t want Rafael to think he was upset with him. Instead, he took his son’s shoulders and gently turned the child so he could see his face. He realized a river of tears would be preferable to the hurt he saw in Rafael’s eyes. “You know what? You can come with us this morning. I’ll bet Father Bernardo has someplace where you can sit and draw pictures while we talk, hmm?” He smoothed Rafael’s hair and glanced into the hall to see that Miquel had joined them. How much had he heard?
Diago didn’t have long to wonder.
Miquel came into the bathroom and stood behind Diago. “Pick him up.”
Diago lifted Rafael so he could see himself in the mirror. Three faces, three shades of skin that passed from Rafael’s light gold to Diago’s tawny flesh, and finally Miquel’s dusky brown.
Miquel made a great show of assessing their faces. “You know what, Rafael? I am darker than you.”
“Miquel is Gitano, too,” Diago whispered in Rafael’s ear. “And everyone thinks he is very, very handsome.” Including me, he thought as he examined his lover’s reflection.
A ghost of a smile touched Rafael’s mouth.
“And your papa is part daimon like you,” Miquel said. “No one has stuffed him in a bottle and made him a jinni.” He reached around Diago to touch Rafael’s chin. “No one is going to mistake us for monkeys, or jinn.”
“That’s right,” Diago said. “We’re a family of bears.”
Rafael gave a soft roar and the mischievousness returned to his eyes.
Quiet moments don't have to be boring. Just remember to use them to keep the story moving forward and the reader will remain engaged. This particular snippet precedes a very violent scene, which has a lot more impact, because the reader is allowed to experience a gentler moment with the family prior to the violence. By seeing how Diago, Miquel, and Rafael interact here, their subsequent actions, and the risks they take, are believable to the reader.

The other overriding theme that runs through this section is Diago's dual nature, which is an important part of the story. While Diago is growing more comfortable with his both his heritage and his place within Los Nefilim, he is sacrificing the daimonic side of his nature in order to fit in. Before it's over, Diago will be forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

So stay tuned, on March 29, 2016 The Second Death is coming ...

The year is 1931.
The city is Barcelona.
The war between the angels begins in earnest.
Whose side are you on?


Qwill said...

I can not wait for The Second Death. What a lovely moment between Diago, Rafael and Miquel.

T. Frohock said...

I can't wait for you guys to read it. I really enjoyed writing this one!