Friday, September 18, 2009

Revealed character in urban fantasy, and in Bad to the Bone in particular

Reading Bad to the Bone this week, I was thinking about something my old writing mentor used to say: that in fiction, you have two kinds of major characters. There's the known character, and you're interested in what they will do, and the other kind is a revealed character, and the fun there is finding out who the heck they are, and what they're up to.

In most romance, the H/H are typically both known characters, and the story is how they come to find, love, and/or affect one another. That's true for paranormals too.

Part of why most romance or paranormal H/H are known characters is that most romances and paranormals switch points of view between the H/H. Generally, if you are in the point of view of a character, that character is known to you. Because, you know, you're in their heads, you have access to their thoughts. People do revealed character points of view, but it's not common. Of course, friends and family of the H/H can be revealed or known characters.

Exceptions would be any first person book, like, Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas, or the work of Megan Hart, which are in the heroine's point of view all the way through.

Why that makes urban fantasy fun

Anyway, one of the fun things about urban fantasy is that it's pretty much always only one point of view like that, commonly the heroine's. That means the author can choose between a known or a revealed hero. Myself, I love to read about a revealed hero. And no, I don't mean that dirty! Sometimes I like a hero to be a mystery, not just to the heroine, but to me, the reader. I like to speculate about his secrets, decipher his actions, think about how he adds up, make up my mind about him, and discover him along with the heroine.

In the UF world of monsters and magic, I find this effect extra thrilling. And Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready has a really fascinating revealed hero thing going on.

Okay, plot of the WVMP Series:
This oldies radio station is run by vampire DJ's, each stuck in their own time era. (The blues guy, the psychedelic guy, etc.) They have this whole ad campaign that they're vampires, but few people realize it's not just fun marketing. Anyhow, in this installment, #2, Bad to the Bone, this cult called "Family Action Network" takes WVMP's signal and blasts anti-vampire stuff.

Our heroine Ciara, who is not a vampire (but she dates Shane, who is), goes undercover at the cult's fortress. She also gets a new vampire dog! I sometimes get nervous when there are pets in books, because I'm always afraid they'll be killed, but from her bio, you can tell that Jeri Smith-Ready is a dog lover, so I felt like I could relax and enjoy the dog.

So the vamps here are all stuck in their eras.
They can't learn new things, or even get into new music. They become less human, increasingly calcified, and eventually quite dangerous. I love this invention of JSR's--it relates to the human condition in a super cool way, something I discussed in my post on book #1, Wicked Games.

New ways to be a doomed hero
Ciara's boyfriend Shane died/became a vampire in the age of Nirvana, so he's a grunger, and a lot of the struggle here is her trying to help him fight his destiny. Like, she's always trying to get him into new music, and is always happy to hear him play a song that came out after he died.

Another way his monster side comes out is in OCD habits. All the vamps get these OCD habits as part of their grasp for control over their deterioration, and Shane is a big alphabetizer and neatness note-writer. One note:
Dear Ciara,
When you make toast, it really helps to use one knife to put the butter on your plate an a separate knife to spread it. That way you don't get crumbs in the butter.
Love, Shane
Known side + doomed monster side = one fine hero
At the outset, Shane feels like the known character. In fact, in that last post, I went on and on about how he's such a well drawn portrait of that kind of grunge rocker guy. But reading this book, there's this really cool way where he's also operating as part revealed character. Like, he has a known side and an unknown/gradually revealed doomed monster side that can sometimes be scary. (Compare this to JR Ward, where you totally get the full monster side of the heroes; it's the heroines who don't.)

There are also things being revealed about his past, like his Catholic upbringing, which darkens his doomed monster side. It's making for a unique story.

Ciara struggles to get him to move forward with the time, and really works to save him, but she's also unsure of the relationship. Shane really seems to love her, but he's hurtling toward this dark monstery future. So anyway, it's really very pleasing. A fine doomed relationship!

I love how honestly JSR writes these two--the relationship feels so genuine, the emotions so raw. Take note: This is an urban fantasy, and romance isn't exactly central here, so though I'm dwelling on the romance, it's mostly monster stuff. But whatever. I'm eating up the romance and the monster stuff.

Another revealed character that's not even a character
There's also this covert paramilitary organization known as "The Control" (the International Agency for the Control and Management of Undead Corporeal Entities). This agency also sort of operates as a revealed character in this series. You're never quite sure what the deal is with them; they're not exactly evil, but they're not benevolent either. The vamps sort of need them, but hate them.

The Control is growing in importance, and I'm quite pleased. As a morally ambiguous organization, The Control makes a kind of interesting counterpart to Ciara, who also has her morally ambiguous moments, and definitely a morally ambiguous history. Okay, am I rambling? Suffice it to say, I'm hooked, and really eager to read the next installment of this series!

Actual reviews of this book: Tez says, (FYI: Tez also reveals in that post how she LUVS hair bands!), Janicu, Scooper.


Patti said...

Great post! I love this series and especially the "rules" JSR creates for her vamps. Ciara and Shane's relationship is sweet and I agree with your assessment of the gradually revealed monster side. Of course I hope Ciara will be able to tame it in future books.

Tracy said...

As is usual I'm loving the way your brain works. This is a fabulous post. I just love Shane and his quirks - even if that is the monster part of him. Of course I thought that Ciara must love him dearly because she didn't strangle him after reading all of his many OCD driven notes.

Renee said...

Great post, CJ. You're reminding me that I have Bad to the Bone in my tbr. I really enjoyed Wicked Game, and it sounds like I have some fun stuff in store for me with BttB!

Carolyn Crane said...

Patti: I hope so too. I'm very eager to see how the relationship plays out!!

Tracy: hey Miss cute hair. Yeah, the notes were totally funny.

Renee: I can't wait to see what you think of it!!

Lea said...

Wonderful post CJ!

I haven't read this series but am definitely intrigued. It sounds a little like Jennifer Armintrout's "Blood Ties", series. Told completely from the POV of the heroine, it is a vampire paranormal romance but there is horror and intrigue woven in as well.

Good series, not for the faint of heart though... lol

Thanks CJ!

Hilcia said...

That was a great post, CJ. I loved Wicked Game and I've had Bad to the Bone in my TBR since it released! Need to move it up. :(

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

These mask pictures you have posted may give me nightmares. :P

Tumperkin said...

That kninfe-and-butter note! So funny - you make this sound so very appealing.

Tez Miller said...

I was born in the mid-80s, and thus wasn't old enough to experience hair bands when they were in their prime. As for more modern hair bands, I adore The Darkness, except that they only made 2 albums before they broke up. But those 2 albums sure are fab!

Yes, I love Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine", Warrant's "Cherry Pie", and Poison's "Unskinny Bop" and "Nothing But a Good Time". So should you ;-)

Carolyn Crane said...

Lea: i've totally been circling around that series. I should just put it on my list. Actually I think I will right now. OMG. List is big!

Hilcia: This one is in a lot of TBRs it seems!!

KB: Mho will protect you!

T: the OCD parts are sweet.

Tez: Oh, funny! I don't even know those songs.

Shannon said...

Alright, you've sold me! I need to add this to the TBR list. Stat!