I am uberstoked to have my publishing sister, Elizabeth Corrigan write a guest post as a stop on her Raising Chaos blog tour. She is the author of the urban fantasy series, Earthbound Angels. In Oracle of Philadelphia (Book One), Elizabeth introduced us to Bedlam, a charming and unforgettable chaos demon. And I’m pleased to say that he’s the main attraction in Raising Chaos (Book Two). [With respect to Elizabeth, I think Bedlam would be the kind of guy you’d love to date, just not the guy you’d want to marry.] Elizabeth has written an insightful post on how Bedlam became this magnetic, alluring character despite his many flaws. Take notes because the best characters are the ones you wish you knew in real life and I’d really like to have some sangria with Bedlam.
Writing Charismatic Characters by Elizabeth Corrigan
I’ve gotten a variety of reviews of Oracle of Philadelpia. People love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between. But the lovers and the middlers often have one thing in common: They adore Bedlam. People have told me they want to date him, or at least be his new best friend. I gave one friend a poster of the Raising Chaos poster, and she said it rendered her husband irrelevant in her affections. (She was kidding. I hope.)
On some level, I find this puzzling. For one thing, Bedlam would be really annoying in real life. The demon of chaos is lazy and irresponsible, and my editor insists on describing him as a “man-child.” Yet somehow his wit, good looks, and almost complete loyalty to Carrie win everyone over. But I’m still pretty sure no one would actually want to date him. Even Keziel, the woman who’s been in love with him for centuries, doesn’t want to spend much time with him. And Carrie wants him around, but she is infinitely patient and has had 3200 years to get used to his foibles.
The other reason I’m confused is that I never intended Bedlam to be such magnetic character, or for him to take over the book the way he did. I added him because Carrie need immortal friends, and I gave her an angel and a demon, for balance. I didn’t even think I was being all that imaginative when I made him. But somehow he grew into a character who’s taken over the whole series.
So how did that happen? How did Bedlam change from a flat character concept into a well-developed and beloved character? I think I used the same process with him that I do with a lot of my characters—trying to see the story from their points of view. Oracle started out as Carrie’s story, but at some point, that version felt incomplete. I needed to know what Bedlam was doing when he left Carrie in the diner, both when he was angry with her and when he was just wandering. At one point there was an extra chapter from Bedlam’s point of view—and one from Gabriel’s as well—but extraneous POVs were removed during editing. Looking at the story from Bedlam’s viewpoint really made me see Carrie’s actions from a different perspective and, I think, made the ending more poignant. A side occurrence was that Bedlam’s motivations and actions became more compelling to me than Carrie’s were, and he jumped into a central point in the narrative.
Thinking in Bedlam POV makes it easier to get into his headspace when I’m writing his dialogue. Bedlam doesn’t think before he speaks. His thoughts are tumbling over each other—in conversation with each other, as we find out in Raising Chaos—and he just lets them come out. Consequently, I let his words pour out of my fingers and into the computer. Much of this is blather that I need to go back and edit into meaningfulness, but it’s usually accompanied by crystals of insight into Bedlam that are often unintentionally humorous.
Some parts of Bedlam are very deliberate, though. Specifically, the randomness. Often when Bedlam says something truly bizarre or out of the blue, it’s not something that came to me. I have to tell myself, “Think of something random!” and hope something good comes up. Usually it does. After all, it’s not too hard to think of anything.
I use Bedlam as an example here, but I do the same thing with all my characters. I invent them as vague concepts, then try to see the world from their perspectives. Some, like Siren and Bedlam, are pretty easy. Carrie is a little harder but not too bad. Michael I have to pay a lot of attention to, and I’m still trying to get into Gabriel’s head space. Does this then correlate with character charisma and likeability? I’m not sure. Certainly I like Siren and Bedlam best, but Gabriel and Carrie have their fans, and I’ve had people ship Carrie and Michael. (People have also hypothesized a relationship between Carrie and Lucifer. I’m not sure what that’s about.) Regardless, I hope I succeed in making the characters come as alive to the reader as they do to me.
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