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Hiding in the shadows

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Of all the books in the Bremmand Chronicles – including the ones still to be published – Balance of Betrayal is the one with the most unexpected characters.
I don’t mean that they are strange or behave in peculiar ways (although maybe some of them do!). They are unexpected because, when I started planning the book, I never realised they would take on the importance that they did. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be exploring a few of these characters and, at the same time, shed light on character development from an author’s perspective.

Of course, one character in the novel is expected to be unexpected and that is the so-called shadow-figure who moves through the story disrupting things without anyone knowing who they are. In one sense, their character is the most clear-cut. They have a job to do and are absolutely committed to it – they have to live as an enemy, act against their own inclinations and do things they’d otherwise consider reprehensible. From a writing perspective, however, a character like this presents a number of quite unique challenges.
When plotting this book, virtually the first thing I decided was who my shadow-figure was going to be and then I built the plot around that. That gives the first challenge as a writer. I had to know who the spy was but that means it is harder to tell if you’ve got the plot balanced.

Think about it. If you’ve ever read a spy novel or a detective story more than once, the perspective is very different the second time around once you know who the villain is. As a writer, you run the risk of giving things away every time you write something with the shadow-figure included. Or to be so intent not to do that, that the character fades into the background and the reader feels cheated when all is revealed. You can take a break and revisit your work, to see how it reads, of course but knowing the identity of my shadow-figure made it hard to know if there was enough of a surprise at the point of revelation.

This is one of those challenges where the only answer is to use a ‘beta-reader’ to help (the name derived from ‘beta testing’ of software, where users test the ‘beta’ version of an application before it goes live). So, when sending the draft out to them, I specifically asked the question “Does the identity of the shadow-figure come as a surprise? Is it too obvious?”

The second challenge is how to misdirect the reader. I didn’t want to over-do it – it is far more fun for a reader to spot little hints, decide they know who the spy is and feel clever for having spotted it (and then disappointed when something they thought was a ‘tell’ is explained later). So, I didn’t make it too obvious but, throughout the book, there are inconsistencies and doubts about each of the possible suspects:
– Tonnat throws in spiteful digs, is generally a disruptive influence and has questionable motives
– Captain Wochal keeps disappearing and has blue eyes (it is remarked upon because the southern races of the Empire generally have dark eyes)
– Kabi is an expert at making alliances with others and seems very in-touch with Empire politics
– Afrial is definitely Bremmandish and served the Earl of Langate, the first family of Bremmand.
– Pholem is looking to undermine at every chance – he is clearly out to get Staval out of his position

I’ve written more about Afrial and Tonnat in other blogs if you want to know more about them, by the way.
The practicalities of writing an unidentified character are also a challenge. After all, the very basics of the character aren’t know so I had to be really careful that I didn’t betray these. How do I write without using he or she as pronouns (and, oh my word, how they did creep in!). How do I write a character without including anything of the character? How do I avoid giving away anything that I know of my spy to make it too obvious to the reader? How do I make sure anything they know could have been known by all of my suspects? How do I describe what they are up to without referring to them directly?

In this last, the answer is to introduce additional members of the spy network. So my shadow-figure meets with Natan and with Mathim – both incidental characters and known to be loyal to the resistance. This provides interaction, a few hints about the character and allows the workings of the figure in the shadows to be known.
For everything else, it is all in the editing. Of all my novels, this is the one I’ve had to read and re-read and re-read to make sure the details are spot on. Did I do it successfully? Well, that’s something that you will have to tell me!

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to www.bremmandchronicles.co.uk

You can follow Cate on Twitter at www.twitter.com/catec23

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