Assassins and Spies

Let’s talk about “developing” characters.

Characters, it seems to me, are drawn from a well we’ve been tossing bits of experience and observation into since birth, and letting them marinate like a Victorian tutti-frutti. Once we decide we need a certain type of character for a novel, we visit that well, and, as we continue to inhabit that character, we continue to revisit the well, re-dipping the character like a tallow candle, adding layers and depth every time.

Imagine, now, a young woman, fresh from college in America, wanting to contribute something to the world, but having no idea what that really meant. See her traveling to a far corner of Africa, where Ethiopia meets the Sudan, to help with black Africans relocated to Amharic Ethiopia to shelter from genocide by the Arabized northern Sudanese. Picture her going to the office of the newly appointed governor in this outpost of Ethiopia to protest that he had thrown some of the refugees she was caring for into jail.

In doing so she has ignored the rumors that he was exiled to this outpost not just because he was, maybe, too black-skinned for the capitol, but possibly because he had been either an assassin for the emperor or involved in a plot to assassinate the emperor. When the obsidian-faced man who faced her went into a desk-thumping fury and accused her of being a CIA spy, what did she do? She burst into tears, gulping that she only wanted to help people.

Tears?! you say, with an assassin?! It may have been the only thing that kept her from being thrown into jail. When I think about it now, I laugh until I cry. But my knees still turn to water. I do think she had no idea of the risk she was really running. But she did have enough perception to file the encounter under something like: think about this guy, and this girl, later; there may have been a lot going on here that you did not understand.

I am still internally exploring the mystery of that young girl, and the governor-assassin she encountered. The process helps to inform the mysteries I am writing.

If you’re wondering how a photo of a jaguar got into a blog about Gambela, it’s the photo I keep near my computer to remind me about sinister forces in my plot.

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