Monday, October 27, 2008

Where I'm at, part two (b)

Bael's character, again.

For the background on these revisions, look at these posts. I've been working on some points about the plot, and think I might have got it figured out. When I'm a little further through revisions, I'll blog about which plot elements I've changed, and why.

Now onto Bael's character. My editor said he needed 'tweaking', and mentioned a random outburst of violence as a case in point. I wrote Bael with a bit of a Petruccio vibe: extremely self-confident, an adrenaline junkie who sees dangerous women as an extreme sport to be enjoyed. A bit edgy, and unsettles a lot of people because he just doesn't seem to fit in, and they're not entirely sure why. He's capable of great charm, but is also unpredictable and has embraced superficiality as a way of keeping the darker elements of his life at bay. However, this means he also comes across as childish and arrogant, neither of which are traits I find particularly heroic.

At one point Kett describes him to her family thusly:

“What’s he like?” Nuala begged, and Kett, mildly shocked at her own behaviour, answered without thinking.
“Big,” she said. “And mad. And loud. And…” she frowned, formed a mental picture of Bael, and described what she saw. “He shouts at kelfs, ‘cos he’s scared of them, I think. And he picks fights with them when he’s angry. And he gets thrown in jail sometimes. And he doesn’t think in straight lines. But he can be sort of kind when he wants to. And he’s very persistent. No, stubborn. He’s sort of…” she scrunched up her face, trying to describe him. “About eleven, really, inside. Well, maybe sixteen,” she amended, thinking of his unstoppable interest in sex.
A small silence followed.
“Well, he sounds…charming,” Nuala said.


Here's a bit from the first scene narrated from Bael's point of view. He's just woken up with Kett and both of them are pretty happy to see each other, but they're interrupted before they can get to the good stuff.

First of all, the scene as it was originally written, with my notes on why it wasn't working (this is like doing Eng Lit at school again).


A tiny sound behind him made them both freeze.
“Don’t stop on my account,” said a sweet feminine voice in accented Anglish.
Before the voice had even died away, Kett had already kicked him off her, leaving him sprawling naked in the dirt as she sprang to her feet, tight and low in a defensive crouch.
Bael stared up, his hands reflectively cupping his jewels from the dozen or so eyes looking right back down at him. And the half-dozen hunting bows.

All Bael’s doing here is lying on the ground being comical. Kett has immediately reacted to the threat, but he hasn’t even sat up. Some hero he is.

Also, I think I meant to type 'reflexively' there.

A woman in bright, silken robes was perched elegantly side-saddle on a handsome white horse. She was tiny, with long glossy dark hair and tilted eyes, and she was smiling. Bael figured that was probably because she was surrounded by kelfs with bows and grim expressions. Oh, and the fact that both he and Kett were totally bollock naked. Literally, in his case.
Kett scowled up at the woman. “Miho?”
The tiny woman smiled wider. “Kett. I didn’t know you were in the country.”
“Well, funny thing.” She relaxed a little, stood up straight. “Neither did I.”
“You know her?” Bael looked between the two women, his tall, scarred warrior and the tiny, delicate creature on the horse.
“Yes. Miho and I…go way back.”
“Well, that’s great.” Bael got to his feet. “Reckon she could lend us some clothes? Get some food? Dunno about you, but I’m starving.” He glanced at the kelfs surrounding them, bows still drawn. Bloody kelfs. No smiles. They wound him up beyond belief. “Maybe we could eat one of them.”

Why, what have they done to wind him up?

Kett didn’t smile.
“Joke. Takes bloody hours to cook ‘em, and even then you can never cut them up properly. Too stringy to eat whole.”
Miho looked a little puzzled by his joke. “But why would you—”
Bael grabbed the skinny arm of the nearest kelf. “Look, see, no meat on it—oi!” The kelf had pushed his hand away. “Gerroff!”
He shoved the kelf, who whipped his bow in Bael’s direction. Bael knocked it to the ground. He hated kelfs. Never done a thing to them, but they all, collectively, despised him and his species.

Okay, so it’s a species thing. Still, he’s being very childish.

“Aha,” he grinned at the creature, now defenceless, and raised both hands in a fighting stance. “Whatcha gonna do n—”
There was a sudden zip and whine, and then a furious pain in his left arm. Bael stared at the arrow sticking out of it, and whirled on the kelf responsible. “Hey! What the fuck was that for?”
“You did just beat up one of his mates,” Kett pointed out. She didn’t seem in any hurry to come to his defence.

No, and he's being so childish I can't blame her.

“It was just friendly playing. You,” Bael rounded on the kelf who’d shot him, “I actually am going to beat up—”
“Bael, stop,” Kett said.
“No! He just bloody shot me!”
“And what good will beating him up possibly do?”
He glowered at her, then at the kelf, who stared impassively back. Bloody kelfs. You could beat them, but they never bruised. You could shoot and slash at them, but they never bled. Their colourful, hairless skin was like iron.
They bowed and scraped to every human in the five Realms, but became deaf the minute he uttered a polite request.
Well, a request, at any rate. Bael wasn’t sure he’d ever been polite to anyone.

Actually, he’s perfectly capable of being polite. It’s just something he can turn on and off when he needs to.

“Oh, piss off,” he snarled half-heartedly, and turned his attention to the arrow in his arm. It hurt like buggery, but it didn’t seem to have hit anything major. “Stupid fucking kelfs,” he growled, working the arrow back and forth and eventually gritting his teeth and yanking it out.
He made a pointed yelp of pain. Kett and Miho, who’d been quietly conversing, both glanced over.
“Men over-react so much,” Miho said.
“Yep.”
“Well, thank you,” he said, scowling, pinching the wound to make it bleed and still securing no commiseration. “Thank you for your sympathy.”

This isn’t helping us see either Kett or Bael as sympathetic characters. She doesn’t even seem to care that he’s been wounded.

“Shouldn’t’ve attacked the kelf, should you?” Kett said, as a munta was led out from the trees. Four-legged and a little like a camel without the hump, the creature was covered in shaggy dark green fur and looked at him with huge eyes as the kelfs started unloading game carcasses from its back.
“Come on,” Kett said, mounting the creature and holding out her hand. She didn’t seem remotely perturbed to be sitting there completely naked, and after a moment, Bael swung up behind her.

What I have here is a scene that tells the reader Bael is a childish bully. All right, so he is capable of being pretty childish, but he isn’t really a bully. It’s entirely his own fault that he got shot, which is why Kett isn’t terribly sympathetic, but it would have been nice if she’d at least checked it wasn’t a bad wound. There's also nothing here to tell me why he really doesn't like kelfs. It's a species thing? Well, that's only a few steps away from racism, which definitely isn't an attractive trait.


Here's the rewritten version of the scene:


A tiny sound behind him made them both freeze.
Bael looked up and saw an arrow. A bow. They pretty much occupied his attention until Kett said, “Why is that kelf aiming an arrow at us?”

Bael notices the danger from the weapon first, and not the person behind it. Kett can see the bigger picture (we find out later that she's had a lot of training in this area). She is surprised to find a kelf threatening her. Why? They don’t usually threaten people?

Bael refocused. Behind the bow and arrow was a small green figure, three fingers on each hand, skin hairless, eyes huge. It stood immobile, impassive. Inhuman. His lip curled. He bloody hated kelfs, and this was precisely why.
“Look, I don’t interrupt you guys when you do…whatever it is you do in bed,” he said, rolling Kett away and getting to his feet.

All right, so Kett might think they’re okay, but Bael doesn’t like them very much. He’s not remotely surprised to find one threatening him. However, he’s not attacking it yet. He's demonstrating his disinterest in kelfs, but also his detachment, telling them (and us) that he usually steers clear of them.

I've also got a small description of a kelf in there, because this is the first one to turn up in the book.

The kelf said something in its own language, which irritated the hell out of Bael. It knew he couldn’t understand it. Kelfs never taught their own language to anyone.

He knows the kelf is doing this on purpose. Also, it foreshadows something later in the book, concerning the translation of something in kelfish.

“You don’t—” Kett began, stepping towards the creature, and it turned its bow on her.
“Oh no you bloody don’t,” Bael said, lunging for the little green bugger, but it was too fast for him.

Aha! Bael’s doing something heroic! A bit stupid, but heroic nonetheless. Defending the heroine is top hero behaviour. A much better start, and it hasn't compromised Kett's character either.

There was a sudden zip and whine, and then a furious pain in his left arm.
Bael stared at the arrow sticking out of it, and whirled on the kelf, murder in his eye. “Hey! What the fuck was that for?”
“You are trespassing,” said a sweet feminine voice in accented Anglish.
Before the voice had even died away, Kett had whirled to face it, her hands curled into fists, muscles tight, body low in a defensive crouch.

Here’s Kett going into warrior mode. She still hasn’t attacked the kelf, however, because unlike Bael she doesn’t have an irrational hatred of them, plus she understands that they don't attack humans for no good reason (this is also a foreshadowing). As for our hero, he hasn’t attacked the kelf completely without provocation; and neither has it shot him without reason, as we’ll see in a few lines.

Bael stared at the dozen or so kelfs who had emerged from the trees, each holding a bow trained on him. Maybe they could smell the blood. Little bastards.
“This is their land,” said the woman’s voice, and he tore his eyes to her. “They graciously allow me to hunt with them, but they don’t like trespassers.”

All right, and here’s the reason why the kelf was aggressive.

She wore bright, silken robes and perched elegantly side-saddle on a handsome white horse. A crossbow rested on her lap. She was tiny, with long glossy dark hair and tilted eyes, and she was smiling. Bael figured that was probably because she was surrounded by kelfs with bows and grim expressions. Oh, and the fact that both he and Kett were totally bollock naked. Literally, in his case.
Kett scowled up at the woman. “Miho?”
The tiny woman smiled wider. “Kett. I didn’t know you were in the country.”
“Well, funny thing.” She relaxed a little, stood up straight. “Neither did I.”
“You know her?” Bael looked between the two women, his tall, scarred warrior and the tiny, delicate creature on the horse. His arm throbbed, blood oozing from the wound.
“Yes. Miho and I…go way back.”
“Well, that’s great.” Bael waggled the arrow in his arm. “Reckon she could lend us some clothes? Get some food? Dunno about you, but I’m starving.” He glanced at the kelfs surrounding them, bows still drawn. Bloody kelfs. No smiles. They wound him up beyond belief. “Maybe we could eat one of them.”

Here’s the Bael I know and love: making jokes while he’s in pain. He’s not complaining about the wound…yet.

Kett didn’t smile.
“Apologies for your injury,” said Miho, nodding regally at Bael. “There are medical supplies at my house.”
Bael nodded and considered grabbing the kelf’s bow to shoot back at it. Not that it’d have done much good.
Could have been this kelf who killed your mother. Could have been any of them.
How can humans love them so much?

Right, so now we know what Bael’s specific grudge is, and also that he’s not fully human.

Kett poked at the arrow, ignoring his flinches.
“Flesh wound,” she said. “You’ll live.”

Here’s Kett showing some concern. Since Bael isn’t thrashing about wailing for someone maternal, and since he’s still standing upright, she knows it’s not bad, but she’s just checking to make sure he’s not being overly stoic. When he flinches, she knows he’s not, and lets him deal with the results of his scrap by himself.

He glowered at her, then at the kelf, who stared impassively back. Bloody kelfs. You could beat them, but they never bruised. You could shoot and slash at them, but they never bled. Their colourful, hairless skin was like iron.
They bowed and scraped to every human in the five Realms, but became deaf the minute he uttered a polite request.
Well, a request, at any rate. Bael wasn’t good at being polite.

Better than saying he’s never polite.

“Oh, piss off,” he snarled half-heartedly, and turned his attention to the arrow in his arm. It hurt like buggery, but it didn’t seem to have hit anything major. “Stupid fucking kelfs,” he growled, working the arrow back and forth and eventually gritting his teeth and yanking it out.
He made a pointed yelp of pain. Kett and Miho, who’d been quietly conversing, both glanced over. Bael pressed down on the bleeding injury, giving them a wounded look.

He’s angling for sympathy (well, he is a man), but he’s not going over the top. Also, he’s applying compression, which says he’s not totally clueless about how to treat an injury.

“Shouldn’t’ve gone after it, should you?” Kett said, as a munta was led out from the trees. Four-legged and a little like a camel without the hump, the creature was covered in shaggy dark green fur and looked at him with huge eyes as the kelfs started unloading game carcasses from its back.
“Oh, sure,” Bael said, “this is what I get for being chivalrous?”
“It wasn’t really going to shoot me,” Kett said patiently.
“Yeah? They’re not as nice as people think,” Bael said, lifting his fingers from the wound on his arm and showing her the blood.

Differing points of view here: Kett really didn’t believe the kelf was going to harm anyone, and Bael thinks she’s being na├»ve. But they’re not arguing about it. Yet.

Kett just rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said, mounting the creature and holding out her hand.



All in all I think that’s a better introduction to Bael’s character, especially as it’s the first scene we get from his POV. More sympathetic? More heroic? More sane?

What do you think?

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