I never intended to create a robot out of my protagonist; he was supposed to resemble a flesh and blood man, young and supple and not forever bending only one joint at a time. But, alas, he rings like metal, so he’s definitely a robot.
Of course, the protagonist I’m referring to is Sam Claiborne, my lead in the latest project I’m editing — Heller’s Canal.
Sam, please allow me to introduce the actor who can best play you in the movie version of your story.
Sam, this is C-3PO of Star Wars fame. C-3PO, this is Sam. (Ha, you should see all the herky-jerky handshaking.)
By the way, kudos to the casting director, Sam and C-3PO have so much in common it’s uncanny. But I digress.
So, when I wrote Heller’s Canal the words poured from me like warm honey. The book took three months to write, and, years later, 30 seconds to recognize its flaws.
Sam is a fine young man, the usual wrangler off the range, who finds himself mixing with civilization out of necessity. (Age-old plot, but when it comes to plots, nothing is new under the sun.)
Sam is affable, rugged, handsome, independent, the usual lead in a Western, except he wears a derby and not a Stetson. Hey, nobody’s perfect, least of all Sam.
Sam’s problems stem from his rigidity, his total lack of flexibility. He walks a lot. He laughs too much. And his speech is excessive. So, try as I might way back when, Sam came off more robot than human.
What a shame, because Sam so impressed me back in 2004, when he first broke upon the range, youthful, vigorous and confident. (This is the point where I was supposed to show devastating disappointment. But strange as it seemed, it never occurred to me.)
I guess it happens that some young people suffer from rigidity well before their time. But laugh and talk like a stiff, too. Definitely a robot.
Thus, realizing that Sam’s got oil in his tubing, I didn’t discard him, but decided, instead, to tear him apart and rebuild him more like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, the humanlike cyborg in Terminator 2.
First thing I did was go after Sam’s shallowness. Oversimplification defined his character — a character that did way too much of way too little. You see, Sam never sauntered, moseyed, shuffled, marched, stomped, or stormed anywhere. All the poor guy did was walk. (But how can anybody expect advanced robots back in 1872. Hey, this is the 21st century, Sam. Step it up.)
To attack this flaw, I went through the entire book and loosened up the fella a little. Soon his body responded more to his emotions and his environment. Sam had grown muscles to control his titanium endoskeleton. Hmm, nice improvement, Sam, but still you have those other problems.
In regard to Sam’s laughing, he must surely be on peyote.
No, he assures me, so I fixed his boring laughter the same way I fixed his invariable walking.
Before the fix, Sam thought everything was funny. Now Sam uses his laughter to express his mood. Sometimes he chortles, other times he snickers, often he howls, roars or shrieks. Sam has learned that laughing is a refined reaction, expressing happiness, fun, disgust, mocking and even abuse.
Next I addressed Sam’s speech. Let’s face it dialogue is tricky, and in Sam’s case even trickier, because he insisted on explaining everything about his story with another character. Solution here was to give Sam an inner voice, the internal dialogue one always carries on with one’s self.
Suddenly, Sam is more human. He moves like a person. He demonstrates individual reactions. And he mulls things over to better understand the world around him.
So, in closing, I offer these words of encouragement. Smile and be happy when your story has flaws and your lead character is made of metal.
The flaws are there for a purpose. They’re there to test your mettle, so attack each like you would a cyborg T–1000.
“Hasta la vista, baby.”