This one time at Writer's Camp…
Bid’nes Up Front, Pah’ty In The Back
A life in fiction doesn’t really differ from anyone you see on the news, if you think about it. To both a reader and writer alike, the character is a living, breathing individual. A character such as Tori is as real to you and me as Paris Hilton is, maybe more so (Tori, you see, isn’t a stuck up little… well, you get the point). The reader determines just how real a character is, though, no matter how much energy, effort, blood, sweat and tears into said character. As a writer, you only get a minor vote in the matter, despite it being your character. So what’s a writer supposed to do?
A little character goes a long way.
One of the reasons I dislike audiobooks is because, when I’m listening, the character is being told what they sound like to me, instead of my mind filling in the blank for me. I harped on this already once, so I’m not going to go into past rants. Instead, I’m going to draw comparisons between this and characterization. Well, attempt to in any case. I’ll probably fail on two of the fronts.
When an author creates a fictional character, they have what they look, sound, and talk like already thought out. However, when a reader picks up your book and starts to read, their version of your character is slightly different in their head. It makes for a slightly different character, and everybody reacts to the same character differently. Tori, for example, was based off two people I’ve met throughout the years and combined into one being. Both dependent upon her father for guidance and independent in her own right, I had Tori pegged as the reluctant leader, the girl who is growing up before our eyes.
When SFWA author Walt Boyes reviewed Corruptor, however, he pegged her as a great leader and toeing that threshold between adult and child still, a brilliant teenager who was unsure of herself. I hadn’t thought of her like that but, upon reflection, I realized that Walt saw something in my character that I didn’t even think to look for.
When another author, Sarah Hulcy, recently reviewed it, she saw it more as piece about the technology and characterization took a backseat (it seems to me, in any case) to the story itself. I didn’t think that when writing it, but again, when I thought about it I realized that the story moves at such a fast pace (which I did intentionally) that it can seem like the story takes control of the characters. If that’s the case, then go me, because that’s what I think I should be aiming for.
Granted, in And Injustice For All, you have to really like seeing bad stuff happen to bad people to enjoy the story. This is a fault in the story, while being a plot device as well. I wanted to do something bad to Marie, then turn around and have the reader say “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Can you do worse?” I really wanted to drive that point home, the entire “Bad things can happen to you if you act like a twit” device. Too often, everything seems to fall right for villains and, as a reader, I can’t seem to fathom just how they took over in the first place. The hero can’t do wrong, and yet somehow this bumbling, deranged psychopath of a villain is the only thing standing between the hero and salvation of the world/land/princess/universe/insert trope here. How did the villain accomplish this? I decided for the Marie Antoinette story in hell to go the opposite way, to prove that a bumbling villain can make for an interesting story while getting what is coming to them.
Of course, I turned that entire experiment upside down when I created Kasyarna, the sea dragon from the upcoming Sha’Daa story. Kasyarna is a great, terrible beast who is smart, dangerous, evil and… retired. He doesn’t want to sow evil and chaos anymore; now he prefers to torment dolphins from his ocean bed while sleeping for the rest of eternity. Naturally, the Forces of Evil need his great might for the upcoming Sha’Daa, so Kasyarna reluctantly fights a US Navy SEAL Team and discovers that some “unbreakable” vows can be broken quite easily.
Yeah, Kasyarna got the kid-glove treatment while Marie Antoinette is forced to learn the difference between a prophecy and career advice with a blunt instrument, but the characters were vastly different. They are very different in my head, which means that other readers are going to see them in entirely different light when they read the two stories.
And once more, I’ll have no control over this. And you know what? I’m okay with this. Because while I may have created them, everyone sees characters different. And what others see just might open my own eyes to something I may have missed while crafting the stories.