Let’s take three characters and do the two question interview detailed in part two.
Firstly, let’s have someone new, because I’ve geared this towards creating and planning a character, and let’s face it, my published books all took me so long to write that it would be impossible for me to remember exactly how I did this way back when I started.
A while ago I posted about how I often start with a name and then asked myself ‘Who is Cade Cantrell?’ I’ve had a few thoughts about him since then, so let’s try and answer that question.
Exercise 1 – the author answers the questions
Who is this character?
Cade is a soldier who’s been subjected to memory removal and re-programming. When called up for service in the space marines at the age of eighteen, such were his fears about what might happen to him that he opted for the memory experiments voluntarily. They gave him a new identity and removed his past, and now that his ten years service are over, they’ve wiped his service out as well and told him where he started life. Trouble is, they can’t restore and only erase, and what Cade is now discovering about himself is that he’s a truth-seeker by nature, and is now thinking of breaking all the rules to find out exactly what he did during those ten years.
Why is he here?
Cade comes from a ‘good family’ and originally believed his purpose in life was to keep the good-family name going and to make lots of money. He believed his call-up to the forces was political – a play by another influential family in order to screw with his by stealing their golden boy away. After failing to adjust back to who the authorities are now telling him he really is, his purpose in life has changed: to find out the truth about why they offered him memory removal and what he’s been used for.
* * *
I actually do think that sounds pretty cool, and I already have a working title for these ideas, but I’ve banned myself from putting pen to paper on them until I’ve gotten a lot further with Talent Show Book 3.
Oh what the hell, let’s break my oath and try some first person out with Cade.
Exercise 2 – the character thinks about these questions in his own voice
‘Your real name is Arcadius Cantrell.’
The repatriation sergeant had to be toying with me. Everyone who went through this got some sort of surprise, but nobody got this, because there was one family who never got called up. Their money protected them. Old man Timon Cantrell needed no protection from money in the first place, so it was said. He wouldn’t have let a son go. Besides, I had green eyes. That penetrating stare of his from all the public speeches had blue. Samantha Cantrell had brown. Genetic mismatch. Try again, marine-core re-pat office.
‘Sir, did you hear what I said?’
‘Yes, I heard. Why are you calling me sir? I’m a civilian now.’
Sergeant Cox looked away from me for a moment, as if about to say sorry, but when her eyes met mine again I knew sorrow was nothing to do with it. Neither was her response: ‘This is a difficult time, sir. We’re advised that the usual marks of respect can make it a little easier.’
I wanted to stand up, but forced myself to stay seated. If I stayed in this chair, there was nothing I could suddenly grab and throw. ‘I don’t think I’m going to get called sir if I walk back into that house.’
I was the last one to receive their real identity. Most of the others walked out of here smiling and relieved. They left me until last because they probably knew I was going to take time, and whoever walked out of here might just take quite some monitoring. For quite some time.
Because this couldn’t be right. Even if I wasn’t really Lieutenant Kurt Strickland, even if my memory of everything I’d done in the special ops core of the marines had been erased, something was still there inside me telling me I couldn’t belong to this new name.
He didn’t exist, I realised. The Cantrell family were big on public record. They wanted everyone to know who they were, bigshots from head to toe who could probably kill a law enforcement official in public and get away with it if they wanted to. They didn’t have a son called Arcadius.
‘Sergeant, I know you’re only doing your job, but there’s no fucking way I’m Cade Cantrell.’
I’d just shortened the name. Like I’d always been used to it. A slight dizziness took me and everything from my shoulders to my hands went numb. As the silence held, I wondered if I was having a stroke. It might just have been perfect luck if it had been one.
Now I stood up, wondering if all along I’d made a the most horrendous mistake of my life. Whatever PTSD-inducing nightmares they’d removed from me, maybe it would have been worth a few years in a halfway house and intensive rounds of CBT if only I could just have stayed as Lieutenant Strickland.
‘I have your home address, sir, but you don’t have to go there. You’ve had full pay transferred this morning and it’s more than enough for you to set up home independently.’
Set up home independently? What was I, fresh out of college? She was talking to a man who had probably set up…
I had no idea what I might have set up. I could have shot someone in the face point-blank and neither of us would ever know. Except she knew something, Sergeant Cox. That look on her face, it said she wouldn’t have wished a Cantrell’s identity on the man in front of her. Just doing her job though. The core would make sure she never got curious about why that name had crossed her desk.
They’d certainly make sure I never got curious about why I couldn’t be Kurt Strickland anymore. Except they’d let me remember the name. Providing it was really the one I’d spent the last ten years flashing on an ID card.
‘I’m a Cantrell?’ I said. ‘A pedigree Cantrell?’
‘Sir, I don’t suggest you use that term if you visit your family.’
‘Do I smoke?’ I said. ‘Because I feel like I need a cigarette or something.’
‘No sir, you don’t. You’re quite fanatical about fitness.’ She tapped the blue file with the core’s insignia on the front. ‘You’re allowed to keep your test and competition scores. They had to erase the memories but the official records are yours. You’re quite an athlete, sir.’
What sense did that make? I could look at athletics times on paper but they wouldn’t let me remember actually achieving them?
They were false, and I knew it instantly. If I ever felt like following a trail, here was the start of one, that would lead me to a great big fabricated nothing, with people paid off to play along with it.
‘Was I an intelligence officer?’
‘Sir, you know I’ve no access to that information.’
I knew this woman was good, and that’s why she was never telling whatever she did know. I sat down. ‘I wonder what information a Cantrell’s money could buy me.’ As soon as I’d said it I cursed my loose mouth, and decided I probably hadn’t been intel at all. That’s exactly what they’d expect. That was the thought that was going to get me out of the door, accepting my place in society once again, only it would just peter out and become another pipedream, as soon as I found out that there are some doors even that kind of money can’t open.
‘There is no Arcadius Cantrell,’ I said. ‘If there ever was, the family had the name erased and the boy along with it. How old was I when I signed up?’
‘Do they know about me? About what’s going to walk through their front door and say hello?’
‘We’ve briefed them according to the usual protocol, sir. Yes.’
‘And what did they say?’
Sergeant Cox looked away again. ‘They said there’s going to be a welcome home party. If you choose to go to it.’
For some reason I couldn’t place, I shivered.
‘Sir, the best advice I can give you is don’t try to explain everything straight away. Just run with it. Here’s what I can tell you. Your family kept plenty of records of your old life. Sometimes when people go through that sort of thing with their family, they start to remember. You have an advantage here, your life was pretty well documented and recorded because your parents made sure of it. They had a feeling you’d choose to go down the memory-reassignment route when you got the call-up. I think they want you back?’
‘Yeah. Want me back for what purpose?’
Sergeant Cox suddenly looked like she’d found her forthrightness, the kind that she might have had when teaching younger recruits drill on a parade square.
‘I can’t tell you how to feel, sir, and I’m not supposed to bring opinion into this, but with respect, I think you’re lucky. A lot of the others have gone back to places where it’s a struggle to put food on the table every week. If you’ll accept this is who you are, you’ll never go hungry. You’ll likely never get a door shut to you. You’ll probably meet the kind of woman who’ll settle down with a man she knows has ten years missing and never ask any questions. Most of the others are going back to places where nobody’s going to trust them and they’ll be lucky if they can get a job flipping burgers on a grill.’
I stared out of the window for a moment, knowing she was fight but still wanting to bunch my fists, or just shut my eyes and sigh, but now wasn’t the time for giving in to emotion. I held out my hands for the files. ‘Alright then.’
She put the blue file in my hands and gestured to the bag that contained everything else I’d need. ‘Welcome back, Mr Cantrell.’
‘Cade,’ I said, respecting how her forthrightness had snapped me out of my inability to make decisions. ‘Keep that.’ I nodded at the paper with my address and telephone number on, already committed to my memory. ‘If there’s ever anything you need, call.’
Now she looked surprised. ‘Sir…Mr Cantrell, I’m not allowed to do that. Orders.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘But there’s an order from an officer and there’s an order from a Cantrell. Memorize it. You might not get to keep the paper, but at least you get to keep your mind.’ I picked up the bag. ‘Goodbye, sergeant.’
* * *
That’s even WAY cooler – I just started a new book, live and ‘on air,’ to show you guys how those two questions are like jump-leads to the battery of a character!
I haven’t spelt it out explicitly in the narrative itself, but what I’ve got going on right there is a literal answer to ‘Who am I?’ in the context of a soldier returning from special duties, and I’ve thrown in a helping of sci-fi to literally turn him from one person to another, then the ‘Why am I here?’ is all in the set-up: CC’s purpose at the moment looks like it’s going to come out as ‘Figure out what the hell’s really going on here.’ There are already questions for a reader to ask, and CC’s going to answer them. That’s kinda hooky for the reader, and will give plenty of depth for me to plumb as the author.
I’m actually looking forward to writing this now. I nicked Ghost of the Navigator’s title from an Iron Maiden song, so let’s nick a Muse song this time and call this book Citizen Erased as a working title.
Enough new book already though, let’s stay on topic and take apart a couple of characters from my published stuff…
…alright, wordcount just hit 2K so I think we’ll have a Part IV for that and I’ll write it later.