I spent a while trying to figure out what I should talk about in this week’s Town Line Tuesday (shh it’s still Tuesday on the West Coast, it counts). As the first official post in the series, I needed it to introduce this project to you in a way that would hopefully reel you in and keep you coming back every week for more and, in turn, help me stay motivated to write this novel. In that vein, I thought about starting off the series with a summary of the novel… but then it came to me, where better to begin Town Line Tuesdays than where The Demon of New Salem began. Usually when I set about writing a new story I start with a concept, something that sets up the world I’m creating and drives the plot. However, in the case of The Demon of New Salem, I instead began with a singular character. So that’s where we’ll start, with Daphne Pendragon.
Part 1: Powers
With bright purple eyes and the rather unsettling ability to read people’s souls—everything that defines who they are: their past, their personality their secrets, and occasionally a limited glimpse at their future—through touch, Daphne Pendragon has never had the luxury of believing she’s normal. And yet growing up in a town where any sort of supernatural ability is outlawed hardly affords one the ability to believe she might be special either. To Daphne, her gift—or curse as she sometimes prefers to call it—is something that just kind of is what it is, there is no training to make it stronger or learning how to control it so it doesn’t run her life, at most she can suppress it underneath gloves so it’s not constantly bombarding her senses. So Daphne’s story, unlike many super-powered protagonists’, is not about learning how to use or control her powers, whether to act as some sort of chosen one to defeat a great evil or not (Not. Definitely not. Daphne would laugh in anyone’s face if they tried to tell her she was a chosen one). By the start of the novel Daphne is well-traveled and has already seen and experienced a lot in the way of the strange and supernatural and due to the nature of her powers she knows people, their ins and outs, the good and the bad, something that simultaneously makes it easier and more difficult for her to connect with them—easier for her to know who to trust, harder for people to like or trust her—so she tends to know more than the typical protagonist. Where she is blind, however, is herself. She knows how to use her powers but she doesn’t know where they come from. She’s met a lot of Supernaturals but never in her travels has she come across anyone else like her. She can sometimes see people’s futures but try as she might she can’t quite…. Well what’s the point in having these powers if she can’t save anyone? Daphne’s story is about trying to find out what she is and what her place in the world is. Daphne’s story then, like anyone’s, is ultimately who am I?
When I was working on creating Daphne and her powers, I wanted to give her a magical gift that would be simultaneously powerful and almost useless. What I mean is, I didn’t want to give her a traditionally useful gift like telekinesis or spell casting. Anyone can use moving objects with your mind or creating something out of nothing as a weapon, I wanted something that wouldn’t necessarily be useful in a fight but that, in certain hands could still be considered dangerous. In other words, I wanted an inactive power. At the same time, traditional telepathy and precognition are both overused and potentially overpowered—if a character can hear another’s thoughts a lot of obstacles in the plot could be too easily avoided and it’s the same with seeing the future. So in order to create something unique and to avoid the problems of overpowering my protagonist (although admittedly the latter is one I struggle with a bit, I am constantly tweaking Daphne’s power and making sure it works in a uniform, limited way) I began with basic telepathy.
I loved the idea of a power that was knowledge-based rather than strength-based so telepathy seemed a good place to start. But, like I said, reading minds is hardly unique, so I thought about what, besides the brain, Daphne could “read.” What I came up with was, of course, the soul. Reading thoughts is all well and good but anything you found there would be based purely on opinion—when you read someone’s thoughts you’re seeing how they see the world, or, more interestingly, themselves, you’re not seeing how the world or the person whose thoughts you’re reading actually are—but if you read a person’s soul, their very essence so to speak, you see them as they really are for better or for worse. Of course, while more rare than telepathy, soul reading isn’t entirely unique either; I needed something that would make this power uniquely Daphne’s.
In television, when a person with telepathy or precognition’s power is presented, it’s more often than not presented as a visual sense—something the character sees if not exactly with their eyes. Daphne’s gift, however, is a tactile one. Rather than seeing into a person’s soul, Daphne feels it through her sense of touch and I use tactile descriptions to illustrate her power throughout the novel. As an added bonus, being limited to skin-to-skin contact for the power to work helps to keep Daphne from becoming overpowered. Another way in which I keep Daphne limited is that Daphne’s power has a major blind spot. Herself. Daphne can’t read herself in anyone else’s soul: she can’t see how her presence in someone’s life affects his or her life; she can’t see her own future; she can’t see whether the person whose soul she is reading loves her or hates her; and if her life is too tangled with someone else’s in places, she may not be able to get a full reading of them. As I said before, I’m still working out the kinks in Daphne’s abilities as I write but I truly enjoy doing so and I’m really proud of what I’ve managed to work out so far.
One of the reasons I love working with Daphne’s power is that I believe I can use it to create some really interesting relationship dynamics between Daphne and other people. After all, if you know someone inside and out at first handshake there is immediately going to be an imbalance of emotional connection between you and them. I wonder what it must feel like to instantly fall in real, honest love based on knowing someone better than you know yourself with someone to whom you are a complete and total stranger.