Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: Hollin

So, Hollin Parry, as I said, started out as Hollin Perris. Hollin's character ended up dictating the entire tone of the book. Yes, indeedy. In the original version, I imagined Magic Under Glass as...well, I don't want to say comedy, that's a little strong, but all the characters were exaggerated or skewed forms of some trope of Victorian fiction, more Penny Dreadful than Serious Gothic Novel; Nimira was the plucky girl from low circumstances, Annalie was the weepy, wise martyr, and Hollin was an arrogant, exaggerated villain (and a womanizer). His introduction, in fact, which happens while Nimira is hiding in a closet, was a joke. A sex joke. Or not:

“It’s just as I was saying at Nurembel’s over the summer. Magic is nothing to fear. In this age of progress, there’s no reason we can’t have mastery over magic and science alike,” Hollin said.
I meant, at any moment, to crawl out of my hiding place, find Ronna and Lariza, and beg for a scrap of bread. But it was hard to give up my prime locale for spying. Perhaps I’d find out what had happened the other night.
“I suppose…you might be right....,” Mrs. Swanney said, tentative and breathless. Of course, she grew breathless very easily.
“Yes, Elsba… You’ll soon see…” A pause. “We’re entering a new age. One day, they’ll look back and say these years—our years—were the dawn of the defining age of man.”
Another pause—a longer one. Oh my.
And then, “Hollin…(gasp)…what about…Annalie?”
“Elsba, you know I only keep Annalie around out of the goodness of my heart. She’s not right in the head. I would tell the world about us if I could, but it wouldn’t do to invite scandal when I’m new in office. Please trust that you are all mine. I don’t like to see my little truffle sad.”
With difficulty, I suppressed laughter.
“No…but little truffle is sad…” The thought of graying Mrs. Swanney casting pouty eyes at anyone was very disturbing.
“I bet I know what you’d like…”
“Oh, Hollin…you don’t have to…oh, heavens, look at the size of it!”
I cringed.
“Yes. I did. And with all the money I’m making from Roman, you’ll have more gems and furs than you know what to do with.” I thanked the heavens they were just talking about gems and furs.

Whoa, super different, right? I was not very good at writing villains. I seemed to only know how to write them comedically over the top. An agent who read the full told me to tone him down and make him more serious.

So, I thought long and hard about Hollin. If he wasn't going to be funny, he would have to change a lot, in my mind. Become a real person whose motivations I could understand. I also happened to be browsing photos at this time, and I came upon this photo of photographer Carl Van Vechten and his wife.

I didn't know who these people were, but I was mesmerized by their expressions. It struck me as so perfect for Hollin and Annalie that I don't know what the book might have been like without this photograph. (Carl Van Vechten, for the record, was a writer and photographer who was interested in black culture and involved with the Harlem Renaissance; he was also bi- or homosexual. Not very Hollin-like, although Hollin does have that fascination with other human cultures than his own, so maybe.)

So, I started thinking about Hollin. He was a hard character to identify with. He's bigoted against fairies, yet charmed by Nimira...he thinks he's being kind of a rebel by talking to her, but his interest in her is as a lovely, exotic figure and not a real person, but even this is progressive for his background. He had to be somewhat of a coward, to make so many bad decisions. I became sympathetic to him, and now his introduction reflects it; Nimira has come to expect a villain and finds someone complicated:

The door creaked open again. I expected Mrs. Swanney, but a man entered the room. His glance touched upon me before he shut the door; dark eyes, striking in a face too pale to hold them. I could not have begun to guess his age. The lines of his face were clear, almost boyish, but the eyes were knowing. His short blonde hair was brushed across from a side-part, adding to an overall sleekness of form.
He clasped his hands behind his back. “You must be Nimira, the dancer from Tassim. I hear you will be regaling us with a performance shortly.”
“Yes.” I was a little bewildered to be approached this way.
He joined me on the couch, smoothing the front of his jacket. He wore a trim suit of deep blue. A large, intricate silver key on a golden chain hung just below his black and cream striped cravat.
He extended a thin hand to me. Roman had been the only other gentleman to offer me a handshake, even when I was a dancer, but especially now, grubby as I was. “I am Hollin Perris. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.”
Hollin Perris! My hand flinched before I placed it in his. Did he seem like a man who could murder another? Yes, now that I considered it, I thought he did. He didn’t radiate evil like a villain in a play, but he looked like a man who would do what needed to be done. I shook his hand with mingled fascination and terror. His hands were cool, mine warm and moist.

But what was the trouble with this version? Well, I still had Roman as the love interest, and Erris running around as a ghost, and now Hollin began to seem like an actual contender for Nimira's affection. Roman was so bland compared to Mr. Inner Conflict over here. And yet, Hollin did make some absolutely loathsome choices, so I was hesitant to have Nimira actually fall for him. She seemed too smart for that! Which led me to big change in version three, described in the last post.

Next: One more to go! Annalie and Karstor gain some spark of life.

P. S. I can't get the words to fit properly around that stupid picture. GRR. Sorry about the wonky formatting.


  1. Wow… Hollin really did undergo some changes! (definitely for the better—the complexity of his character allowed him to fit all the different roles he needed to play for the story to move: stuffy noble, progressive noble (in regards to Nim), coward, love interest, guy who ultimately makes the right decision and becomes our ally. Definitely a much more multi-faceted “villain” than you typically get!

    In fact, I found it really interesting that everyone in the story started out as a Victorian novel archetype and then grew into the very fleshed-out, tangible characters we have now (especially Nim—until you mentioned her archetype, I didn’t realize she was one of those plucky orphan lads/lasses a la Pip. It makes sense now that you say it, but good for you for writing a character that stands like her own person rather than a member of an archetype!).

    So as a writer who also starts with genre archetypes for her own cast of characters, can you give us some advice on how to go from step 1: archetype to step x: Nimira-type standalone/fleshed-out characters? I’m particularly curious what steps you took to re-imagine Hollin. Did you try writing monologues in his voice? Did you actually write out his whole background/history? Did you flesh his personality out by basing it on a real person/people? Are there any writing/imagining exercises you’d suggest to help with this?

  2. It's so interesting to see the evolution, Jackie. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love the photograph - what a cool way to get inspiration for your characters.

  3. Wow, this post was perhaps the most intriguing of all. (I very much liked that picture that helped to inspire you. Amazing!) I'm so glad that Hollin developed the way he did; he's a character who is both strong and weak (just like real people) yet someone who somehows rises above the flaws that seek to bind him.

    Very intriguing, as always! :)

  4. Redcrest: Maybe I will have to answer that question in another post!

    Kris: Thanks. I don't usually use photographs because I usually just draw the characters, but in this case it was too perfect.

    JSavant: I really like how Hollin ended up developing, too... It's SOOO weird to look back on the old version.

  5. That's such a cool photo--and yes, it really does look like them!! Uncanny.