I’m working on the edits for Kiss the Dead, my latest novel. It is also number twenty-one in the Anita Blake series. Once upon a time small decisions didn’t make me pause much, I’d make the change and move on, but now smaller things can give me pause. For instance, does Cynric the young weretiger from Vegas have straight hair, or a slight wave, that’s only straight if he puts it in a tight pony tail while it’s wet? It’s such a small thing, really, but it will forever dictate what Cynric’s hair is like. It’s like deciding whether my imaginary friend has straight hair, wavy hair, something in between. Since hair texture is damn near a kink with me, it’s more important than it might be, but more than that I now know that small decisions that are almost throwaway bits of detail can seriously come back and bite me on the ass, because unless the character is on stage a lot, which Cynric isn’t, I may forget what I decided about his hair. Main characters, I remember, and minor characters, are well, minor, but it’s the major-minor characters that are always the problem for me. I coined the term major-minor, or minor-major, for characters that aren’t major in every book, but when they are on stage they’re obviously more important than the minor characters sharing the screen. In fact, some of the major-minor characters will move to major characters without much notice to me, the writer. Jason Schulyer was one of those minor characters that just kept hanging around after his introduction in book four, The Lunatic Cafe, and just persisted in being more on stage than I had planned. I love Jason and he’s fun to write, and a fan favorite, so not a problem, and I guess I’ve never had a problem with remembering what he looked like, but there were fewer characters to keep track of in the early books. Now, at book twenty-one, there is a much bigger cast of characters. I find that I have particular trouble remembering characters individual characteristics if they were introduced with a bunch of other new imaginary people. Cynric was a very minor character introduced in a large group with other new characters that had a lot more on stage time. His hair was cut short when we met him, so that could mean it was straight, or that he’d cut it short enough that he’d taken all the wave out. Now, four books later I need to decide, because he’s let his hair grow out just enough that it would show, one way or the other.
I know that some writers make little note cards about hair, eyes, etc . . . and I keep meaning to do that, but I never quite do. I finally realized why I may not want to reduce my characters to notations in a list of “characters”. I don’t have a list of characteristics for my real, flesh and blood, friends. I remember what they look like because I see them, touch them, have dinner sitting across and look at their faces as we talk. I know the way they use their hands to talk, or how they cut their food, because I can see them in real life. My major characters are like that. You don’t forget the face of your best friend, just because you haven’t seen them in awhile, so it is with major characters for me. But minor-majors are like that person I see once a year at a convention, or a few times a year at group get togethers. But there the analogy falls apart, because I don’t forget these kinds of details about real people that I’ve sat across a table from, or met several times at some event. But imaginary people that I only see every once in awhile, they aren’t so concrete in my memory. Yet, I want them to be that real to me. I think I feel that if I could reduce them to a set of 3 by 5 cards, or a computer list, then somehow I’ve failed. I’ve failed to make them as real to me as they need to be. It sounds silly when I write it out like that, because they are imaginary. They are not real enough for me to sit across a table and have dinner with them and they never will be, they are figments of my imagination, bits of inspiration that walks and talks on paper for me, but they are not flesh and blood people.
But . . . if they aren’t real enough for me to know the texture of their hair, then how can they be real to you, the readers? If I can’t close my eyes and recall the way their skin feels under my fingertips, or how their hair slips through my hands, then how can I ask you to feel it? Height doesn’t bother me as much, because it’s not something I’m as aware of, which is probably why minor-major characters can grow, or shrink, by inches between books, but hair, eyes, skin tone, that is more important to me. Though height does become important if I’m writing a sex scene, but even there it’s where do they get their height from? Do they have long legs? A long torso? Depending on where they get those extra inches makes a lot of difference once they’re up close and personal with my main characters.
Its not that Cynric has straight, or wavy hair, it’s that the answer will change the texture of his hair. I am a very sensual writer, and incredibly visual and tactile in my orientation. Since we seem to be keeping Cynric around for awhile our odds of having Anita run her hands through his hair are pretty high since Anita reflects my interest in hair. Yes, I do have a thing for men with long hair, though I have been cured of wanting it long and longer, since I find that mid-back is doable, longer is harder to take care of, and anything past the waist is just a comedy of errors getting caught in car doors, and all sorts of inconvenient places. But I don’t want to just be able to say his hair is straight, or wavy, I want to know the texture of it if I touched it. I guess anyone that my main characters may have sex with are the ones that make me sweat the small details, because I need to do more than just see them. I need to see, touch, taste, know them in a way that goes beyond what a list of characteristics could give me. I want even the minor-major characters to be so real to me that if I close my eyes I know what it feels like to touch them, I want to know that kissing Jean-Claude tastes different than kissing Richard, and it’s not about what they’ve eaten. There is literally a taste to someone’s skin, and that spills over to their lips, their mouths if you break the boundary of their lips, and taste deeper; they taste different. It is a faint flavor, this taste of kisses, but subtle things are what good sex is all about, especially on paper, and though I may never try to describe this real taste difference, because it is just too subtle usually, I need to know it to do my job to the best of my ability. Sometimes when I write I’m all nerve endings and sensory input, other times logic and a cold distance pervades, but I need to be able to do both; one without the other would make me only half the writer I am.Posted by LKH at 5:07:54 pm on January 23, 2012