Friday, March 1, 2013

How Severino Changed...and hint number two

When I was first starting out, an author friend of mine told me to know my characters before I started. “One time I made the mistake of not introducing myself to one of my characters before I began,” she said. “He took over and 350 pages later I realized I had to reclaim my story and the only way to do that was to kick him completely out of the book. That was a waste of time. I’ll never make that mistake again.”

So, when I began Tombs of Terror, I knew my characters…or at least I thought I did. Severino was, originally, a very minor character. In the first draft, I only needed Severino’s muscle to move Jonathon out of the tunnels. I gave him his assignment and he fulfilled it in two pages.

However, once Severino did that, I realized he was going to be hanging around the house until Jonathon left. That’s when I decided to use the Peruvian teenager to add tension to the story, so I gave him a rifle and made reference to his membership in The Shining Path terrorist group who was lurking just around the manuscript corner--forcing Jonathon to feel the need to escape from Severino.

I also had to explain why Severino's parents were not I killed off the dad and sent the mom to Lima to work and provide for the family (a very real scenario for too many Peruvian families).

Yet, I knew I had Severino originally 'help’ me in my plot so, despite his terrorist affiliation, he still had to be a good guy. That’s when part of Severino’s back story came to me…he was involved with The Shining Path but didn’t want anyone else involved in them. Though he appeared rough, he was really just trying to protect his sister and keep Jonathon away from the terrorists because he knew what they’d do to him.

At that point, all was good. I let Jonathon escape and figured he was never going to see Severino again. Carlos was going to help Jonathon get into the tunnels. But the quiet Peruvian teenager showed up again, letting me know that since he was a member of The Shining Path he was the only one who could get Jonathon away from terrorists…and he’d do it at the risk of his own life.

How can you turn down a sacrifice like that?

So, I let him. He got Jonathon away from the terrorists and handed the American over to Carlos; and the book moved on without Severino. But I realized that terrorists would not be kind if one of their own was caught helping a hostage escape. They are, afterall, terrorists--not pacifists.

That's when I had Carlos tell Jonathon about the risk Severino took to get him away from The Shining Path. Jonathon listened to the explanation and moved on through the tunnels with Carlos as his Inca guide.

But, by the end of the novel I wanted to make sure that Severino was fine so I had Severino give Jonathon the Inca coin and the letter. With that final addition to the manuscript, I packaged it up and sent it to the publisher.

The publisher liked the story and agreed to buy it. However, their beta readers had all commented so positively on Severino, they wanted to know if there was some way I could weave him into more of the story.

I knew I could because I had grown to like the Peruvian teenager myself. That’s when I went back and gave a 'good guy' a good reason for being part of The Shining Path…he was looking for the terrorist who killed his father. It was easy at that point to place Severino throughout the story and let readers take a peek into his mind and life.

When Life of Pi movie producer Kevin Buxbaum read the book and contacted me about turning it into a movie he said he liked Severino and Juan and wanted to see even more of both of them. So I brought Severino to the states to join Jonathon for new adventures in The Lost Curse.

Though I always knew strong, independent Tallie was going to make her debut in The Lost Curse so many readers had said they wanted to see Jonathon get with Delia that, from the get-go, Tallie was always assigned to be a sisterly friend to Jonathon. Do you remember the first time Tallie saw Severino? Without much of an introduction, she gave the surprised Peruvian a hug and I knew, from that very moment, she and Severino were going to click. It was easy to build their relationship from there.

Even when he was a very minor character originally sent in just to move an unconscious Jonathon out of the tunnels, Severino has always been very intelligent. His only hindrance, I knew, was his lack of formal education because of his poverty and harsh life in the mountains of Peru.

Because so many ‘unschooled’ Peruvians fluently speak Spanish and Quechua, as Severino grew and developed I wanted him to show that ability to pick up languages. Some people just can. Severino uses his language gift in The Lost Curse to increasingly communicate with Tallie. He also uses it in Cambodia, in Lair of the Serpent.

Additionally, Severino’s life in Tombs of Terror has clearly introduced him to rocks and geology and it has become one of his passions. He uses this knowledge to save Tallie’s life in the The Lost Curse and also to set up a powerful criminal in Lair of the Serpent.

That, by the way, is the second hint…Severino uses his knowledge of geology to set up a criminal in Lair of the Serpent. You will have to read to find out if it works.

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