author’s note: tertiary and quaternary characters
Posted by jeanne
at first, when i conceived of this story, it was all about the girl, and the boy, their vision, and how they changed the world with a video game. the others were always there, and soon kurt, fairy and snake became the secondary characters, and they did a lot of work making the game and playing roles in the game and influencing the story’s overall plot as well as acting out development arcs specially made for each of them.
as for tertiary characters, at first the masses of game players, and the whole rest of the world, were summed up by ‘players’ and ‘they’ and ‘society’. then i was introduced to a plucky band of players, a random adult player, an everyplayer type, and a typical teenager. they know nothing of the overall principles the central characters were so concerned with, or interested in the struggles to create and manage the game and its consequences. they just play the game, and have their lives outside of the gameworld. in imagining the lives thru the 7 years of the story, it was really easy to envision the quaternary players, the teenager’s family, dad mom and sis. i just took a classically dysfunctional family and ran with it.
originally, i wrote keywords for what goes on during each dragoncon for the family as a whole, from the point of view of the dad. then i separated out a bunch of research into abusive character types and put them into the various chapters, from mild expressions of abuse to the very worst. so when it came to stretching everything out over 42 chapters, i had to spread these abusive traits around, using one chapter to illustrate emotional abuse, and one to illustrate economic abuse. there’s so much of this in this story. so many lists of traits, of methods, of how things work, of progressions. at times they were immediately associated with a character, or with a stretch of chapters. but at times they sat there looking for expression. that’s where the quaternary characters came in so handy, because each one could express a development of personality and situation that would ring true because it’s how many people have experienced it. whatever it is, whether it’s a good character development or an evil one.
the backstories of random and everyplayer are only now coming clear to me after weeks of thinking, receiving, fantasizing what their lives had to be like in order for them to do the strange things i had for them to do. this is what i have discovered, much to my surprise. random is from india, which good thing i’ve seen a bunch of bollywood movies and read some recent indian crime fiction. and everyplayer is a piece of work who popped into my life recently, just long enough for me to take their character for this story, and knock on wood they won’t be back. this is how i find characters. fairy literary staffing, how may i direct your call.
this last week, i have been refining the story arcs of the teenage boy’s family. i’ve been calling the dad an armchair authoritarian, because he embodies on a personal scale what is happening in society. originally i wasn’t going to mention the teenager or his family, or any of the tertiary characters, until the game went live, in the 15th chapter (a third of the way thru the story). but their involvement spread and spread, and finally he has something to say when the levitation is reported on the news in chapter 2, and got an after-school job at the very food court where the main characters work out the details of the game in the 4th chapter.
so he and his family are in it from the beginning of the story. this is a surprise to me. i didn’t know that about these characters. and another surprise, he and his dad go all the way to the end of the story, 42 chapters. in effect, the story will be told from the viewpoints of these characters. i hadn’t thought about that before. i was expecting to center it on the girl, and gradually transition the point of view to the plucky band, who do the hard work of bringing about a quantum revolution. it may end up being a much stronger voice than i have been anticipating.
you just never know in a story like this. it may have something to do with why i can’t figure out how to start the story.
here is a sample of what i’m working with, a quote from the document i’m working in at the moment:
chapter 23 game banned. round up quantum terrorists and sympathizers. random becomes part of the network, joins quantum working groups, uses quantum to ferret out spies.
c3ll3r! beaten by dad for quantum. Refuse to accept abusive behavior. Demand reasonably predictable and rational actions and reactions. demanded to get job at factory alongside dad.
traits: self centered, exclusive, zero sum. rigid, punishing. might makes right.
events:something that calls in outside attention.
work: upgraded to light industrial, closing boxes, if good can label, if real good maybe forklift. warned by local militia about quantum infractions. faces debtor’s prison. needs son to join work.
abuse: colonial civilized versus savage thinking. class divisions. numbers, commodities, rules, laws and penalties. there is one objective reality, subjectivity is an error. witch hunt, scapegoat, punishment. Saying the abuse did not happen, or wasn’t that bad. Minimizing, Denying and Blame Shifting. Using visitation to harass your partner. Using Children. Silent or overt raging. Using Intimidation.
anecdote: It’s difficult to argue against criminal justice fees for those who can pay, but for those who cannot– and most criminal defendants are poor–such fees can be a personal and public policy disaster. Criminal justice debt drags people further away from reintegration with civil society. A person’s life can spiral out of their control when interest, late fees, revocation of a driver’s license and ineligibility for public assistance, mean that unpaid criminal justice debt snowballs.
mom wasn’t home when son beaten, is threatened by militia when she returns, has crackpot theories, not getting much sleep, always has flulike symptoms. dad blames her, accuses her of drug use, assures her he’s her only protection from antiquantum lynchmobs.
sis moves in with boyfriend, more peaceful at home but sis and dad always texting. intimates mom’s flulike symptoms due to drugs.
chapter 24 wilderness plucky band: pursue convergent paths in the wilderness (troubador, soldier, merchant),
c3ll3r! angry, victimized. =p advises her. react in kind. Let him taste some of his own medicine. advises c3ll3r! how to deal with dad. 5Fight Him in Court
sis n/a – playing teh gema at boyfriend’s house
chapter 25 indefinite detention. contradict inflated perception. (pointing out classical weaknesses direct action) you’re not so special. do not give second chance. people pop right out of confinement, doors don’t stay locked, computers don’t stay passworded. building infrastructure for new society, somewhere during the oppression in the real world they surface as quantum irregulars. see them fight trolls/infiltrators. deal with objections and use anti-abuse techniques. translate facebook and twitter into quantum? then outreach recruiting education and training, =p stands up to snake, arrested, pops over to c3ll3r!’s house, confesses. tells dad she’s a spy investigating his son’s cell, reveals c3ll3r! is a girl.
c3ll3r! banned from internet use, has to go outside house to do schoolwork, has to sneak to play. recognizes realworld, heads for own house, thinking to stop dad. =p pops in as he’s fighting trolls, hides =p (dad likes, uses against wife) disenfranchised groups operate within a system owned by someone else, and can’t just take because the system will take back. they have to work under the radar, subverting the way things are to suit their own needs, like the mexicans under spain. Never show your abuser that you are afraid of him. Do not negotiate. Do not succumb to blackmail.
traits: generosity of oligarch, treat family like slaves.
events: likes =p, uses against wife. decides son is gay. wants vengeance for drug dealer attack on daughter
work: thinks he can control them with =p’s help, plans to turn them in for reward
abuse: Prohibit disconfirming information and non supporting opinions in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled. An “in-group” language is usually constructed. abuse – then they oppress you. emotional abuse – create strong aversive emotional arousals. Heap blame/put to shame.
mom supposed to be worried about =p. too busy working to notice, =p does good deed.
sis boyfriend home invasion pistol whipped, troll. held and tested but not charged. bail, =p like her.
chapter 26 hinterlands. revolutionary grafitti, beginning to leak thru to real world.
c3ll3r! conscripted into army, not recognized (kernel), plays along and is sent as scout to suburbs of elizabeth. meets girl (again). makes it to his neighborhood, sees dad and =p having sex. sees mom zonked out, looks for sis and sees her zonked out, tries to wake her but zaps back into game with her, to her location.
dad sex with =p
mom zonked out, dad medicated her.
sis zonked out, c3ll3r! stumbles across her in the landscape, wakes, explained as low blood pressure (but caused by opiates). she’s been making deals with trolls in hinterlands, wakes up sitting around the campfire.
i’m going thru the entirety of the story on this level, over and over, fiddling here and there, following threads thru this strand and sometimes going back to the union document to follow the threads thru other strands in the same chapter. the whole is tremendously more complicated than the tales of three little people, and sometimes keywords are all the indication there is of what’s going on in the outer world. and oftentimes it doesn’t jibe at all. i had the hardest time adjusting what happened to the dad in his career to what was happening in society and what his son was going thru in the game.
but i’m mostly finished with that now. now it’s almost time to put this document back into the union document, a chapter at a time, clearing up the old version as i insert the new one (because threads appear in the arcs of more than one character in each chapter). it sounds like writing computer code. debugging. and when i finish debugging the entire program, then i can start fleshing out all that shorthand, all those keywords, taking all those indications of themes and turning them into conflicts between this character and that one that spans however many chapters before it resolves into conflicts with other characters based on the growth that occurred in the last conflict.
and then i’ll start writing. i keep saying that.
i’m finding that i’m less anxious about all the apparently extraneous research quotes and dead end ideas and musings in each chapter. i’ve been starting to see how all of these things could influence the progress in that chapter, as stages in one character’s thinking or in diverse stances taken by a variety of characters.
i guess the next thing i’ll look at is the interactions between the primary and secondary characters and the tertiary and quaternary characters. with the armchair authoritarian and his family, i have found surprising links between these two camps, like when kurt and the teenage boy become friends and influence each other thruout the story. when i go thru random and everyplayer’s arcs, i will find more ties to the main characters. and the more filled out these links, the richer the story becomes, and the more possible it is to think of telling the whole thing from the teenage boy’s point of view. as well as everyone else’s, that’s the point of quantum – every viewpoint is valid. this way i’m strengthening every viewpoint, because every one is beginning to run right the way thru the story, making a view from anybody’s position possible at any moment. online i might be able to do this with links, so you could follow the story once, from anybody’s point of view, or a million times, from everybody’s.
and then i’ll start writing. i keep saying that. i keep getting really antsy to begin, to get into the soup i’ve created. but i know from bitter experience that whatever ingredients aren’t on the counter aren’t going to get into the pot. so i have to make sure all the wholes are filled, all the changes are indicated, all the blank spots on a continuum between what happens in the chapter before and what happens in the next one beyond. so i keep plugging away at reconciling the character arcs of even the quaternary characters (even maybe thinking about quinary characters in a vague way, what i could show here, what could develop there). i keep going thru the 42 chapters, envisioning each one from the point of view of whatever story arc i’m working on.
once i get the current detail document integrated with the main 6-section outline, i can take each section and break it down into its 7 chapters, and start writing. after i’ve gone thru them to make sure they’re developed consistently.
this recent process, of filling out the life of the armchair authoritarian’s family, and the youngest member of the plucky band, has made me very happy, because it’s been a wonderful creative experience. a whole family’s entire life parading before my eyes, developing as if in a bath of photochemicals. before that, it was getting tedious. there was too much to deal with once i had combined all the individual character threads into 6 sections of union outline. and now i’m going to have to go back to that, to finish tying everything together and filling holes. but i’ve come a long way in this week of work, as i do in every week of work, as it turns out, and tho i spend all my time on the computer (when i actually have a piece of paid work to accomplish), i feel like i’m doing what i need to be doing, and i’m happy with my progress in it. and look forward to starting to write…