So a few days ago I woke up around five in the morning with an idea how to make the scene work. I heard Dave stir next to me, and I said to him, “What if at the beginning the Astrologer is very serious and upright and proper, and only concerned about the oracles and geomancy and trying to figure out what it is that the gods want, but as soon as he gets to pretend for a while that he’s royalty, he starts flirting with every pretty young woman he sees and invites them all to come to this banquet that was just supposed to be for a few people?” And Dave groggily said “Ha!” and then rolled over and fell back asleep. That was enough of a positive reaction, though, to reassure me that it wasn’t just my imagination, that this was indeed the kind of comic reversal that would make the scene work.
Later that day I played around with the idea some more and realized that this plot twist also (a) gave me a usable character trait around which to start developing the character of the Astrologer, who had been a blank to me, and (b) solved a problem I was having with the end of the first act, as it gives the unexpected guest at the banquet a plausible explanation for her being there that everyone else will buy. This is the kind of serendipity that I think of as a sign that I’m on the right track. Sweet.
(A character I’m writing doesn’t seem to take life to me until I’ve found some kind of internal contradiction in his or her personality, which might for example be that he or she is torn between wanting two incompatible things, or as in this case having some element of hypocrisy, whether consciously or not, in his or her nature. For me, finding that contradiction marks the turning point where the character stops feeling to me like a pawn I’m pushing around to make the plot work and starts feeling like there’s a spark of life in him or her, something I can work with and build on.)