With all of the news media coverage about Swine Flu, here is my own take on how the conversation is likely to have gone between principal cabinet members and the President this week...
President: "Good morning, everyone. CDC, thanks for your update on the Swine Flu situation. Like all Americans, I'm concerned. While I don't want to contribute to a growing panic, it's our responsibility to prepare. I'd like to get your thoughts and recommendations for the way ahead."
National Security Advisor: "Mr. President, it appears the Swine Flu virus is spreading across international borders rapidly. With limited travel restrictions in place, we can expect an exponential rise in cases around the world--more illnesses and more deaths. Many more."
Council of Economic Advisors: "Imposing any travel restrictions at this point would render any chances of an economic recovery slim at best. Restricting travel is synonymous with restricting commerce. Without free commerce, our current recession will surely slide into a depression."
Treasury Secretary: "It would be devastating."
Commerce Secretary: "Until we have further resolution on the threat we're facing from Swine Flu, I don't believe I can overstate the risk of overreacting here...."
The President: "None of us want to overreact, and we won't. The decisions need to be well thought-out. The risk of under-reacting may be just as great, so we have to strike the right balance in our response."
Acting HHS Secretary: "Developing an immunization for Swine Flu will take time. We've reached out to the current producers of vaccine and they have already begun researching and testing vaccines to determine which will be effective. Ultimately, vaccine production is accomplished by injecting flu virus into eggs. That takes time. I might add, vaccine is also expensive. So, priority of vaccine will go to first responders and hospital workers and then to high risk populations. In the meantime, we are releasing stockpiles of Tamiflu to hospitals where clusters of Swine Flu have popped up to help mitigate the effects and hopefully help slow the spread of the virus."
White House Chief of Staff: "We are developing an interagency task force to deal with a potential pandemic, Mr. President. We'll meet every day and update you as required."
Secretary of Homeland Security: "Our goal is to keep our hand on the pulse of the country as we progress through this emergency. We have the means to do that in our operations center on Nebraska Avenue."
National Security Advisor: "Internationally, we'll do that through CDC and here in the SITROOM. Continuity of operations plans are being implemented."
The President: (Nodding) "We'll, frankly, I'm worried. All of us are susceptible to this virus. As you know, I shook hands with a gentleman in Mexico who died of the disease the next day. If you look at this objectively, we really haven't progressed much further than when the world faced a similar situation during the flu pandemic of 1918. We still grow vaccine in eggs, for God's sake! The most effective means to address an epidemic or pandemic is by isolating the virus. Closing schools. Closing convention halls and cancelling public events. Restricting travel. Eventually, we'll have to implement those measures. It won't be business as usual. But right now, I don't want to start a panic."
(Pausing, looking around the table)
"For all of us here on these 18 acres, we're human too. It's apparent that this will get worse before it gets better. We're going to be faced with some pretty dire reports in the weeks ahead and we'll have to react to them, so taking passive measures alone won't be sufficient. We need to dust off and update our contingency plans. As a federal government, we need to be in constant contact with our state and local counterparts as we deal with this emergency. A government needs people to operate effectively, so take care of yourselves and your families. Take care of one another. If you're sick, seek help. I need you."
In most novels, the main character is offset by an "impact character." Aptly named, the impact character must have a pervasive effect through his/her decisions or actions--positive, negative, or both. Defining an impact character requires first establishing a foundation of values for that person. In my novel, The Lazarus Covenant, Sandy Evenson is the Impact Character. I defined her thematic issue in one word: "doubt." Here are some of my early notes in defining Sandy Evenson's Impact Character Issue:
Evenson initially doubts the impact she can possibly have in making a difference in the ambush investigation or in Bosnia at all and wants to leave the country. Even when she agrees to stay, she initially doubts Lyons' methods because she too is an investigator who sees the holes in Lyons' approach. She initially doubts Lyons' association with Celo because she is a very ethical person.
After days and weeks...even months of researching and jotting down notes about your main and impact characters--about their problems, their solutions, symptoms, resolve, approach, growth, etc.--the day will finally come when you need to pull all of it together in a somewhat coherent way. ...In a way that at least your characters can understand. The "Main v. Impact Character Synopsis" is therefore nothing more than an extended description of the relationship between these two vital personalities that drive your story. It's helpful to write this description quickly--without conscious regard to the plot or the story. You can clean it up later. Much of what you write in this synopsis may well not be included in your novel. It's all character/relationship development--and it provides texture to your story and animates your characters as you begin to write your novel. So, in stream-of-consciousness form, here's how I did the Main v. Impact Character Synopsis for my novel, The Lazarus Covenant. It's rough--and be warned--there are some plot spoilers!
Mark Lyons has always been driven to evaluate situations, environments for what the truth really is. He applies logic, but does not entirely trust it on its face-value. Understands that people are driven by agendas and motives. He has applied his evaluative technique in all of his activities as an SAS operative, and as a policeman in Northern Ireland...as he does in investigating the ambush. His "fault" is that he is not satisfied when the answer is easily provided to him, and so he does not quit even when threatened or told to desist.
Lyons evaluates the details of the U.S delegation's "mine" "accident" and determines that it was in fact a ambush, and discovers there was an eye witness; as a result, he finds himself in a number of threatening situations with Sandy Evenson; his investigation leads him to other facts that US officials seek to hide from public view (eg, WMD in Bosnia); his evaluation of the threat facing the US and EUFOR, places him in conflict with a number of powerful players with resources greater than his own; he evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of employing Celo and placing him further at odds with officials and with Evenson, who leaves him (temporarily) as a result of that association.
Lyons' problem, however, is that his drive toward evaluation does not extend to his personal life. He has not done any self-evaluation...and is therefore (according to Evenson) living a perpetual mid-life crisis. Ultimately, Evenson makes him realize that to solve the immediate WMD problem, he must reevaluate his past and confront his estranged brother. What he discovers is that it is precisely this self-evaluation that constitutes the larger problem Lyons' faces to achieve the peace of mind he desperately wants.
Lyons doesn't really understand that his proclivity to violence was the result of a very traumatic even in his younger years; that the violence that he directed was not so much a quest for justice as it may have been a displaced quest for Blood Vengeance; based on the execution of his wife by terrorists. Evenson makes him understand that the difference between he and Celo is that Mark always focused his efforts on establishing a foundation of justice rather than cold retaliation. Lyons remains unsure until he finally speaks to Celo. They collectively reevaluate what happened at the Dam site twenty years prior, and come up with some parallel, but mostly conflicting conclusions. Celo points out to Mark that they are really not that different: Celo's father was executed in front of him, Mark's wife was executed in front of him, etc.; Mark reevaluates his wife's death and determines that he has been running away from any intimate relationship with a woman...sees that Evenson is the only person he's found who can relate to him based on her own adventurous past in war zones.
Inaction is also defined by Lyon's unwillingness to reevaluate his personal past because it is painful...too complex...and too difficult to reconcile...no one (especially he) can possibly understand because it is beyond the scope of normal human experience. Only one other person does understand, and he has reevaluated his past: Celo. It's just that his conclusions are fatally flawed. Mark is therefore forced to reevaluate based on his brother's own flawed evaluation and his attempt to transfer that to him.
Lyons wants to achieve peace of mind. He believes he can accomplish this by staying in the "arena" (what he's good at), while focusing on peaceful means to do so, in contrast to what he's lived in his past. He is wrong. Ironically, the environment he thrusts himself into, leads him in the very direction he is avoiding. "Change" requires revisiting his past, while also confronting extremely dangerous circumstances that require that he apply all of his abilities-- including those he had sought to abandon. This dangerous journey will change Mark Lyons, but not in the way he could have expected or predicted.
Lyons wants to be a Be-er but must continually revert to his primary approach as Do-er. Avoids conflict, but then lays waste when challenged beyond any other alternative.
At the beginning of the story, Evenson hypothesises that because she witnessed the ambush, she will be pursued by the same crowd.
Sandy Evenson is initially driven by her need to leave Bosnia after she witnesses the executions of the US Special Delegation; but after Lyons convinces her to stay to help him investigate the ambush in the interest of justice (inherited from her previous stint in Bosnia during the war and subsequently as an ICTY investigator), she gets to know Mark Lyons, hears about his past (from others more than he), and although she admires him greatly, she also sees the complex inequities that he manifests-- he refuses to talk about himself, avoids close relationships, until she corners him into finally talking about himself. "Going Home" finally removes a good part of the veneer, but not all of it. Talking to her pursuer, Celo, he tells her another piece of it. Talking to Kate Kamrath, she tells her the Northern Ireland part of the story-- all of which allows her to make the deduction that Mark must reconcile his past for several reasons, for his own internal peace of mind, but also to resolve the immediate external problem that faces them: Celo's weapon that he certainly will use.
Evenson has experience a tremendous amount of stress in her past, which enables her to relate well to Lyons, where no one else can. She tells him of her enduring pain silently...not crying in the mass graves she investigates ('What good would it do?'), her trials in Vukovar during the seige and mass executions there, losing friends in the UN helicopter crash.
Evenson seems to be more certain in her assessments, which also tend to be very black and white-- never gray. Her certainty runs counter to Lyons' more holistic approach that looks at possibilities, causes and effects, motives. Evenson's certainty in herself allows her to take risks without regarding them as such. Lyons has difficulty with absolutes, because all theories are flawed and are not entirely failsafe. Nonetheless he admires Evenson's brand of certainty. Lyons sees that he is diametrically opposite Celo, whose certainty of the injustices of the past and the potentially disastrous future leads him on a collision course that Lyons feels compelled to halt before it is too late for everyone involved. Evenson is certain, however, that Celo has the destructive power that Lyons would ultimately be powerless to stop, despite his abilities. Once Lyons tried to stop Celo by force, it would be too late to prevent the very catastrophe they are trying to stop, from happening. Conversely, Evenson knows that at this point, Lyons is the only one who can address the Celo problem, using a holistic approach that he is very reluctant to adopt or apply.
Lyons initially rejects Evenson's assessment that certainty of oneself -- values, past experiences, relationships, etc.-- is an absolute prerequisite to real peace of mind. She is certain that both brothers must reconcile and face these individually and collectively for what, ironically, is the solution that Evenson advocates: Potentiality-- requiring Mark to take the risk of meeting Celo despite the odds that the meeting could very well fail and leave both men even more intransigent, resentful and scarred. Lyons finally agrees when all other options are removed from him, with flashbacks of surrendering to the IRA.
Lyons' first approach to this threat is to take action, and find who is responsible. When he finds out who is responsible (ostensibly Celo), Lyons is faced with the challenge of self-introspection-- a challenge his did not anticipate and is not prepared for.
In spite of the grief over his wife's death, Lyons continues to work harder than he did before...uses even more rash means.
His efforts at collaboration are unsuccessful, so he finds himself competing-- and therefore doing what he is best at-- taking control of his environment, fixing problems as they occur. He is looking for a physical solution for his problem in his external environment (eliminating the WMD threat), but it is the problem in his internal being that is the most immediate and challenging. Evenson finally exposes his misconceptions, as does Celo (who is also a do-er).
Lyons' first approach to this threat is to take action, and find who is responsible. When he finds out who is responsible (Celo), Lyons is faced with the challenge of self-introspection-- a challenge his did not anticipate and is not prepared for, but which Evenson advises him he must face up to.
Mark Lyons was born in Yugoslavia. His older step-brother is Goran "Celo" Mescic. After witnessing a mass execution with his cousin, where Lyons fires at the executioners, moves with his mother to Ireland to escape retaliation from the Serbs. His uncle tells his Aunt Maja that they will follow when there is more money. Based on the events at the Dam site, the family is torn asunder, and neither boy sees one another again: Very shortly after he and his mother depart Bosnia, his uncle is executed by Tito's Army as blood vengeance because they know his son were involved. Celo witnesses the entire scene but does nothing to stop it when his father motions--orders-- him to go away. His father sacrifices himself for Celo. Maja hears what has happened and is informed that her son is missing, so in an act of desperation, she changes their name to Lyons. Maja eventually tells Mark about the fate of his father and brother, and Adrian blames himself. ja raises Mark well and keeps his Serbo-Croatian fluent by speaking it at home. All the while, Mark witnesses several IRA bombings, assasinations that are endemic to Northern Ireland. Adrian rejects religion in his life, regarding it as one of the prime causes of war, and for the death of his father and brother. He gravitates toward the life of a soldier, and becomes a very well-known SAS operative after intercepting several IRA attacks, and capturing/sometimes killing those IRA terrorists responsible. He marries a woman who he desperately loves, but she asks him to quit the SAS because he is "not one of them...." He responds that he is not really Irish either, but he does as she asks of him, and uses his popularity to become a police detective in Northern Ireland, and he becomes even more famous-- infamous on the Catholic side. His argument is that as a 'transplant' he is as objective as he can possibly be. The reality is different, however, and in a very public kidnapping spectacle, that is televised nationally, the IRA threatens to execute Adrian Lyons' wife publicly unless he gives up. He knows better and is ordered by his boss that the SAS will handle it. They arrive and an SAS Commander by the name of Captain Ian Rose take their positions. Mark follows the developments, suddenly does not like what he sees and tells Rose to withdraw. Rose refuses, so Mark goes against all doctrine and surrenders himself to the IRA. The IRA sees the SAS move...lots of shouting...by all sides, but the end result is that the terrorists kill his wife. The SAS kill the terrorists in a lightning attack. Lyons lives, but of course, he does not forget. He immediately goes back to work on his personal (and very violent) crusade against the IRA, and in a very short time completely disrupts their operation. But he takes no prisoners. In spite of the grief over his wife's death, Lyons continues to work harder than he did before...uses even more rash means consistent with the Balkan vengeance motive he was indoctrinated with as a child, but has never employed up til then. In short order, Lyons is a national British and Irish hero...he is also respected by the Catholics because of what happened to his wife, but also because he does maintain his objectivity toward them. Ultimately, he fights to make his wife's death meaningful, so he publicly denounces violence as a means to political ends and becomes a proponent of aggressive negotiations with Sein Fein. His results are substantive and constructive for both sides, and he gains a global reputation. On the eve of another Balkan War, Mark is called in to head the International Police Task Force in Bosnia because he is regarded as the only one who can apply his Irish strategy to the powder keg in B-H.
Sandy Evenson is a New York City native, a graduate of Columbia University Medical School and Vanderbilt Law School. After graduating from Columbia, she worked for Doctors Without Borders during the Balkan War. She conducted mass grave exhumations as a Forensic Pathologist in Cambodia's killing fields and in Guatemala. Based on her experiences in Cambodia, Rwanda and Guatemala, she returned to attend Columbia. She was an Assistant District Attorney in Denver, and was hired by the Justice Department to work as a Human Rights Lawyer. Soon thereafter, she was selected as one of only three lawyers to be Prosecutors for the second Balkan International Criminal Tribunal based on her previous work in the region and her forensic expertise.
Her knowledge of the Balkans although well-developed, is extemely biased, based on regular confrontations with Serb, Muslim and Croat officials and soldiers throughout the war. Her efforts became extremely aggressive when she learned the hard (tragic) way that any other way leads to atrocities and death. She has seen situations get out of control, is familiar with what war looks and feels like. In the process, she has become a true International citizen more than an American-- although she vehemently denies this when Lyons mentions it to her. Her experience has shown her that to achieve any kind of justice in as an extreme environment as war (and especially when you're not a combatant with a weapon), you must be sure of yourself, know what you're doing is right, and above all know yourself-- "...even if later you realize that you're full of it!"
Evenson is an extrovert: 32 years old. Assertive. Acerbic Wit. Messy, unconcerned, careless, disorganized, and when pushed, stubbornly rebellious and defiant. She possesses a tough exterior. She can be unpredictable, but is extremely intelligent, possessing remarkable insight into people and situations. She is nonetheless a linear (male mental sex) thinker. An idealist of sorts and a pacifist. Independent. (Independence challenged by growing dependence on Adrian). Headstrong. Intense and vocal. Not afraid of confrontation (Blockade-Runner). Suspicious-- like Mark, didn't like what she was becoming and then her friend (Canadian Colonel with her in Vukovar who died in a helicopter crash) made her realize. Ran away from a previous relationship and continues to resist intimacy. Although she is "single" again, she is not very happy. Focus of first Subplot Turning Point: As she resists Mark Lyons, she grows closer and depends upon him, clearly falling in love with him. Unrequited for a while, but she doesn't give up on him. She wants to go back to a normal life with a house in Cape Cod, and someday travel to Tibet.
Mark Lyons and Sandy Evenson's personal histories are very different in their younger years, and begin to converge in terms of the difficulty of personal circumstances as their adulthood progresses. They both see the effects of war on the human condition, see what people are capable of doing to one another, and see how widely divergent the values of foreign civilizations are in times of war (and peace). Lyons' experiences in Northern Ireland are essentially those of a combatant, however; while Evenson's experiences in Bosnia are those of a doctor and humanitarian. Gradually, though, after Lyons' wife is killed, he assumes the role of peacekeeper-- a role more in sync with Evenson's role as humanitarian and war crimes investigator when the two do meet following the US Delegation ambush. Notwithstanding the similarity of roles between the two, Lyons' proclivity toward the grey areas (and correspondingly questionable means) conflicts dramatically with Evenson's more black and white methods and confrontational approach.
Sandy Evenson's deduction that Adrian must confront his past psychologically and his brother, physically is bolstered by her inductive solution that based on her own mother's influence on her, both men should see their mother ("Hell, it wouldn't hurt!") and let them explain themselves to her...she also induces that their mother is all they have left in common besides some very painful memories.
In the end, based on these experiences, Lyons goes from being the conflicted and capable (if reluctant) warrior to a contributing, focused, very self-aware leader and peacekeeper-- promoted to Deputy UN High Representative in the Balkans.
Behind every story is a "story"--that is, how the main character comes to intersect with the story problem. The backstory is provides the necessary detail for the author (not necessarily the reader) to understand the direction of the story, and importantly, the connective tissue that brings together the main character with the rest of the characters in the novel. Backstory can be provided in the form of prologue, flashbacks, flashforwards or dialogue. Here are my early notes on the backstory between the main and impact characters in my novel, The Lazarus Covenant:
Mark Lyons and Sandy Evenson's personal histories are very different in their younger years, and begin to converge in terms of the difficulty of personal circumstances as their adulthood progresses. They both see the effects of war on the human condition, see what people are capable of doing to one another, and see how widely divergent the values of foreign civilizations are in times of war (and peace). Lyons' experiences in Northern Ireland are essentially those of a combatant, however; while Evenson's experiences in Bosnia are those of a doctor and humanitarian. Gradually, though, after Lyons' wife is killed, he assumes the role of peacekeeper-- a role more in sync with Evenson's role as humanitarian and war crimes investigator when the two do meet following the ambush. Notwithstanding the similarity of roles between the two, Lyons' proclivity toward the grey areas (and correspondingly questionable means) conflicts dramatically with Evenson's more black and white methods and confrontational approach.
The first step in any problem-solving process is defining the problem.In writing a novel, you must also identify one issue or characteristic that will help solve the main v. impact character problem.The Main v. Impact Character Solution is a crucial element in developing your story.In my novel, The Lazarus Covenant, “Certainty” was the Main v. Impact Character Problem.I determined that the Solution for the problem was “Potentiality.”Potentiality became the one element that could restore the relationship between the main and impact characters.Here are my early notes on that topic as I developed the story for The Lazarus Covenant:
Lyons initially rejects Evenson's assessment that certainty of oneself -- values, past experiences, relationships, etc.-- is an absolute prerequisite to real peace of mind.She is certain that both cousins must reconcile and face these individually and collectively for what, ironically, is the solution that Evenson advocates:Potentiality-- requiring Mark to take the risk of meeting Celo despite the odds that the meeting could very well fail and leave both men even more intransigent, resentful and scarred.Lyons finally agrees when all other options are removed from him, when Evenson meets with Celo first and Rose's raid fails.
Personal change typically requires altering one's point of view first. In a novel, the most important change is effected through the impact character toward the main character, or protagonist. The spark of that change is a problem. The author's task, therefore, is to define the main vs. impact character problem. Many aspects of the story will influence the main vs. impact character problem--past and present circumstances, deadlines, personal histories, views, external forces, internal pressures, etc. But a good "problem statement" between the main and impact characters is a good start. In my novel, The Lazarus Covenant, the dynamic of certainty is the main source of friction between Mark Lyons (the main character) and Sandy Evenson (the impact character). Here are my early notes as I devised the main v. impact character problem for the The Lazarus Covenant:
Evenson seems to be more certain in her assessments, which also tend to be very black and white-- never gray. Her certainty runs counter to Lyons' more holistic approach that looks at possibilities, causes and effects, motives. Evenson's certainty in herself allows her to take risks without regarding them as such. Lyons has difficulty with absolutes, because he believes all theories are flawed and are not entirely failsafe. Nonetheless he admires Evenson's brand of certainty. Lyons sees that he is diametrically opposite Celo, whose certainty of the injustices of the past and the potentially disastrous future leads him on a collision course that Lyons feels compelled to halt before it is too late for everyone involved. Evenson is certain, however, that Celo has the destructive power that Lyons would ultimately be powerless to stop, despite his abilities. Once Lyons tried to stop Celo by force, it would be too late to prevent the very catastrophe they are trying to stop, from happening. Conversely, Evenson knows that at this point, Lyons is the only one who can stop a massive Balkan conflagration, using a holistic approach that he is very reluctant to adopt or apply.