The Sleeper Must Awaken

Kristin Nelson blogged about the perils of waking characters. She’s a great agent and a wonderful teacher. If you can make one of her workshops, do it. I subscribe to her newsletter, and I don’t subscribe to many. I’m a busy person, you know.

Her latest one was about query letter rejections and how they all kind of sound alike. Why yes many of them do, or so I’ve heard. Fortunately, they aren’t as bad as some of the classic rejection letters advising the authors never to pick up a pen again.

While I was prowling around her blog I ran across said perils of waking characters post. She explains it’s just not a good idea to start a book with your character waking up. I’ve always wanted to write a bomb of a waking up scene that grabs the reader by the throat to prove it can be done, but I’m still that kid in basic trying not to get noticed in a bad way by the drill instructor. Trying to prove the drill instructor wrong isn’t wise either.

Someday we’ll discuss where the term “getting smoked” comes from.

What immediately came to mind though when I read “waking characters” is a scene from Dune by Frank Herbert:

Duke Leto Atreides: I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

I’m working on a new story now. It’s a Civil War piece featuring a southern woman trying to save her plantation home by taking in young ladies in a boarding school. She’s also a Confederate spy and supply runner. Her unofficial fiance is a Confederate colonel and the story goes back and forth between them. Thrown into the mix, is a lamia and a secret society of demon hunters who may be descended from the Templar Knights.

I knew how the story started and sort of how it ended. I planned on it being a stand alone, fun story, except for the tragic stuff, I’d walk away from. Yeah, I can already see this being a larger story.

Here’s where the waking character comes in. You thought I forgot, didn’t you? As part of a description of one of the teachers, I mention a school master:

I leaned back in my chair. “There. I’m sure she just went to Maisy for a treat and will be back before you return to class.”
Lucille’s black curls shook vigorously. “I don’t think so. She said Latin bored the horse piss out of her. If it—”
“That will be all, Lucille. Miss Ess, I’ll find Persephone and bring her to you.”
Abigail pursed her mouth in fury and snatched Lucille’s hand. They disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared and I set off in search of my missing student. Persephone was always hungry. It’s a wonder the girl didn’t weigh 300 pounds, but she was like a hummingbird, flitting here and there burning off every ounce she ate. As her body was, so was her mind. It took a talented teacher to keep her engaged and while Abigail was classically trained, she was…boring as horse piss. Baron had once commented it would take a dedicated man to stay awake long enough to court the woman. He might be right. The only man who had paid her much attention was the spindly school master who had eventually hanged himself, Baron contended from boredom.
The school master was intended to be a walk on character. Not even that, but a dead walk on character. Then he woke up and said, “Wait a minute. I think I have something to say about that.”

Our spindly, dead school master never uttered a word of dialogue and yet morphed into a very interesting character everyone wants to know more about. Heck, I want to know more about him.

He came to life even in death.

I love it when characters do that.

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