The ideas also dictated the size of the cast. I started out with close to a dozen girls, bumping them off with drownings, sharks, suicide, infection, etc.
Hmmm, maybe too many deaths.
I want the story to have a semblance to reality,
but I want it to be upbeat as well.
More Googling, more research. Combine incidents, offer less lethal outcomes. The infection now becomes an acne-related cyst. Draining that cyst now becomes a gross-but-funny scene.
And how do they sterilize it?
Well, turns out one of the
ties in with that, just how
I won’t reveal here.
This is one way of creating a story, following each idea through to its logical conclusion, then seeing how it connects.
Without the need to kill off as many characters,
my cast was soon whittled down to a core seven:
The novitiate and six students.
Already knew who Sister Agnes — “Aggie the Naggy” — was.
What about her charges?
Well, as stated, troublemakers, problems, losers.
One of them is the outcast Filipino girl.
She needs an antagonist, a petty little bigot, a bully. Southerners of that era, I am sorry to say, were pretty open and upfront with their prejudices. So we have one spoiled Southern belle in the crew.
All bullies have toadies, so give her an easily manipulated younger girl who views her with hero-worshipping eyes.
There’s the big fat girl nobody ever talks to, the one who does nothing but sit in the library and read and study and get straight A’s on her tests.
We need a comic relief. We’re going to get some laughs and smiles from all the others, but we need one who can always be relied on to say or do something to break then tension.
There’s an old British sit-com called Keeping Up Appearances about a social climbing middle class woman named Hyacinth Buckett (“Pronounced ‘Bouquet’!”) who drives everyone around her nuts with indefatigable attitude. Okay, the social climbing is off-putting, but the indefatigable attitude that gets on everyone’s nerves is charming. So we’ll add a Brit to the mix.
Finally, a character who at first seemed to be superfluous but whom I kept around simply because I needed one more player for the other characters to bounce off of.
When Savage Angels was being planned as a graphic novel, I really couldn’t find much use for her, but when it became a prose novel, suddenly she stepped forward as the narrator — and in retrospect, only she could be the narrator.
(I tend to do that a lot,
include characters and
incidents that seemingly
have little if any bearing
on the story only to later
realize they’re the lynch pin.)
Now that I had their types, I needed their personalities, their histories.
 Acne is a severe problem for many Caucasians living in tropical climes.
 And is her stock ever going to rise once the others realize she has knowledge that can keep them alive.
(to be continued)
“Downcast” (cropped) by Holly Rose Briar
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Now to give them names and faces, histories and descriptions.
Creating characters is part art, part science, part inspiration.
When I was growing up, I read a lot of stories in Boy’s Life, the Boy Scout magazine. Many of them were about plucky Boy Scouts finding themselves in challenging situations where as luck would have it, their merit badge skills and knowledge came through to save the day.
I must’ve read dozens of these stories, and I can’t remember a one:
They all blend together in a blur of resolute young lads who
never had an ignoble thought or went to the bathroom.
If my characters were going to be memorable,
the first thing I needed to do was to kill off all the good girls.
Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes (me, especially) and by making my girls
the problem cases
I ratchet up the stakes.
Logically there would be a supervising adult with them, one of the nuns, but my story couldn’t use a real authority figure, so I came up with Sister Agnes, a young novitiate who was an upperclassman when the other girls were freshmen.
She, too, had been a problem case and the other girls remember this and have a hard time taking her seriously.
A hard, hard time.
There’s no one way of creating a story, you don’t always start at one point and build out from there. Once I had my basic idea and knew what type of characters I would be using, the next step was plotting the story out.
This story was going to be more picaresque than something with a more linear plot. There were any number of things that could happen to the girls, so I drew up a list of all eventualities.
Soon they began organizing themselves:
These things could only happen while drifting at sea,
these would be items of immediate concern once they found land,
these were natural perils,
these were man-made.
And each idea had the potential for spinoff ideas:
The sister demands decorum from the girls, but it’s a desert island, how do you balance propriety with practicality?
 Wow! What are the odds of that!
 Though they could, of course, dig a perfect field latrine and rig a rustic shower out of two saplings and an old bucket.
 A mystery, for example, where each clue leads to the next.
(to be continued)
For their part, the girls would have no idea where they were and would take pains to hide from the Japanese. No big distress signals, no bonfires, no visible signs of human habitation.
Reconnaissance aircraft flying over the island would see no signs of people and, since both sides had cracked the other’s codes, they would know there was no enemy interest in Bidney Island so the girls would remain relatively safe.
Who were these girls and how did they would get there?
Well, they couldn’t be from the mainland USA or even Hawaii, that would make no sense. How in the world would they end up on the other side of the Pacific?
World tensions the way they were,
nobody would fly students into a hot spot,
they would be flying them out.
That meant they had to start in the Philippines and be heading south to safety in Australia. And they had to fly: An aircrew could get killed easily but on a sinking ship there would be at least one sailor assigned to look after them on a lifeboat.
So…what are these all-American girls doing in the Philippines?
Obviously the children of diplomats, trade managers, oil company executives, etc. People of privilege who could afford to bring their families halfway around the world back in the 1930s.
The school would cater to that class of clientele, though as often the case, the nuns running the school would be using it to fund another school for needy children in a rundown Filipino only neighborhood.
The girls in the school would all be white Americans or Europeans, certainly all English-speaking.
There would be one Filipino girl among them, an outsider.
As war tensions ratcheted up, their parents evacuated them to Australia, youngest girls first, until only one planeload of girls in their mid-to-late teens was left.
That would be the flight that got shot down on December 7th, 1941 (yeah, yeah, I know, I know, when the Japanese attacked the Philippines it was December 8th because of the International Dateline; it’s called artistic license, folks).
(to be continued)
…so that wraps things up for tonight.
Serenity, will you please close
our meeting with The Lord’s Prayer?
Sure thing, Mr. C!
Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name.
Your kingdom come and your will be done
here on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us what we need for today,
and punish us the way we punish others.
Lead us away from temptation,
and save us from evil,
for yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory forever.
Amen. Uh, Serenity, I don’t mean to sound critical, but it’s
“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”,
not “punish us the way we punish others”.