As writers, we tend to toss our central character in the middle of things. That’s fine and dandy but there’s a problem. I write the Will Diaz adventures first person. In the novels, he’s made efforts to pass on what he’s learned to others. Well, how the heck can you expect them to learn if you don’t allow them to run things once in a while.
In the next novel, Dead Friends, I ran into just that issue. Here’s the scenario. Will’s buddy Max, who he worked with in the military as part of a semi-covert narcotics team, has set up a buy for a massive amount of drugs from a location where they’re being produced. Safety rules demand eyes on the agent so if he gets in a bind, you might be able to get him out. They also want as much of a photographic journal as possible.
Now here’s another twist. While Will and RJ are both good in the tactical situation, this situation has a lot of balls to keep in the air, and that means they have to command it. They’re in a position of General George Patton firing a machine gun when what George really should be doing is running the battle. They can’t be there to provide “overwatch” for Max. The best they can do is be with the reaction team should they have to go in and rescue him.
So the Overwatch Team, the one that will be close but not too close, so it can provide initial security for Max and photograph what’s going on, has to go in first. This is where three of my already established characters come in. Albert Montoya, a deputy sheriff from a neighboring county wasn’t an MP in the Army. He was leg infantry. So getting into a location via cross country, and hiding his team is something he’s well experienced at. He’s taking two people with him. One is Bob Mortenson, the Marshal from Manassa. Bob was a Platoon Daddy in ‘Nam for an infantry platoon. You’d think he’d be in charge because of age and experience, but Bob is also the team Sniper. He already has a job. If Max gets into trouble, Bob is his first, best bet for getting out alive. The third person is Vickie Marquez, a young woman heading to the military to become an MP. Will and RJ are determined to make sure she knows what she’s doing and so she can get the good assignments. She goes in with the video and camera gear. That leaves Albert to run Commo, provide extra eyes, and act as local commander.
That leaves Will pretty much out of the thick of things.
So here I was writing the section. It wasn’t working. I rewrote it. It wasn’t working at all. I rewrote it a third time, and it stank even more.
I finally realized why it didn’t work. Will didn’t know what was going on, and he can’t be in the thick of things. And since was already established that he’s not Superman or has some super psychic power, he can’t see what’s going on. I had to setup some kind of dialogue between him and the Overwatch Team.
What I did was a little strange. I got out a topo map of the area (these stories happen in real place), found the best place on it for an over watch/sniper team to perch, and then put some toy soldiers at that location. I thought about the traffic that would go back and forth. Like for instance, when Max comes into their field of view (“We have eyes on the Roadrunner.”). Nothing more. We want to keep radio transmissions short. While it’s doubtful that the bad guys would have radio location technology, they may have some kind of scanner. Short helps ensure you fall between the scans. And, why do they call Max “the Roadrunner?” Well, Max hung that handle on himself. After all, he’s never been caught.
The other thing is we’re interested in what Max is doing. At this point, we couldn’t care less how green the grass is, or the deer that wandered out into the meadow. They’re there to keep an eye on Max, and so all transmissions will center on him.
Interestingly, while Will, RJ, Pam, and Chief Gallegos are waiting for transmissions from the Overwatch Team, I was able to use that to have them tell some stories, and by having Will imagine what they were seeing. It also worked to build the tension as they waited for him to come out. I put them all into a very tense situation and there was nothing he could do about it except wait. And that can cause imaginations to run a little wild, especially when Max signals the Overwatch Team he’s going inside the structure. He pushes the brim of his Massey-Ferguson cap up (that’s his signal).
Well, no sense in telling you what happens next. Just that it was fun to make sure Will couldn’t be in two places at once.
All that to say that not having you central character in the thick of things can work out very well.