Good thing no one reads this blog, otherwise I might feel guilty for going on and on about the BDB series. But I don't, so here's one more thing.
I was talking with a friend tonight about the series, she introduced me to it and has been waiting (im)patiently for me to catch up to her. Finally, tonight, we had a chance to do that.
She's read the compendium, I haven't, so we're still slightly off-kilter, but we're pretty much even. We talked about the hero of Book #6, and she told me about how Ms Ward writes the characters as they come to her, but she doesn't sit down and do a moment by moment outline of her work before she starts the book. Instead her work is "character driven."
After much discussion with my friend though, we came to the conclusion that the hero of this book was not in the driver's seat. In fact, as far as I can tell, he wasn't ready to be a hero at all. I suspect (with absolutely no data to verify my point of view except the book itself) that this book was written because there was a contract that needed to be filled, and this hero was the story promised to the editors. But, the hero himself wasn't ready to come out and play.
What do you do when your characters won't get behind the wheel? Ms Ward gave us filler - filler that wound up being more interesting and more compelling and more real than the promised entree. In fact, I suspect her side characters looked at the hero, said, "Whatever, dude. If you're not willing to handle your business, let me handle mine." Then grabbed the keys and hit the ground running.
As an author though, what do you do? Your bit players are stealing the scene, but the work they're turning in is so good, you can't deny them the opportunity to shine. So you let them have their head, and they reward you with deep, honest moments that bring them to life. In fact, their robust, fascinating honesty winds up highlighting how stingy your hero is being with himself.
But you can't make a character talk to you. You can give him the keys, you can put him in the driver's seat, you can even put his damn hands on the wheel, but if he doesn't want to go anywhere, your character-driven story is screwed.
Those of us who are not under contract are actually lucky in this regard. We get to write the book that wants to be written. Our recalcitrant hero gets to stay in our heads, clipping his nose hair or bird-doggin' the chicas until he's ready to step up and be a man.
But an author under contract is stuck. The professional author must deliver the story that's promised. Whether her hero is ready to play or not.