Thursday, March 7, 2013

Guest Post by Mary Fan

As a reader, I’ve always preferred character-centric books to those that are purely plot and feature fungible shells as protagonists. So when I set out to write my own novel, it was important for me to know my characters. Before I had any idea what the plot of Artificial Absolutes would be, I knew who it would be about.

In a way, writing is an exercise in being someone else and trying to feel what he or she feels. In order to make a character believable, one must be able to see through his or her eyes, to know his or her background, to understand his or her way of thinking. And so I took it upon myself to dive into the lives of Jane Colt and her older brother Devin, even though I knew the majority of what I came up with wouldn’t make it into the final draft of my book.

Jane is first introduced as an ordinary young woman living in a distant future in which humans have spread across the galaxy. I imagined details of her childhood—what it would have been like for her growing up a privileged daughter of a wealthy planet. I envisaged a precocious little girl who knew she could get away with anything because she was cute, and because of that, she grew up unafraid to use her status as a pretty girl to get what she wanted. And yet behind the bold exterior lies insecurity stemming from the fact that she could never make her high-achieving parents proud. I dreamed up scenes from her school years, how she would have behaved, which circles she ran in, who she dated.

The character of Devin Colt ran the risk of being a sci-fi stereotype: the starship-flying, straight-shooting young man with a dark past. In fact, most of my early beta readers flagged him as being too “perfect.” In order to highlight his humanity, I had to delve deeper into his psyche and pull his most innermost thoughts out of the depths of his mind onto the page. It was a somewhat harrowing process, since he’s a very damaged person and someone who has given up on what used to drive him. By the time I’d figured him out, revealing certain aspects of his character felt a lot like writing a confession, even though the those thoughts weren’t mine to confess.

In my opinion, the old saying “Write what you know” isn’t literal (otherwise we’d get a lot of books about writers writing about writers!), but applies abstractly. For instance, I’ve never flown a starship through a dangerous environment, but I have been behind the wheel of a car that was about to crash, and so I drew upon that experience to bring one scene to life. To shape the character of Adam Palmer, a seminary student, I read a number of religion and philosophy essays—the kind he would read—and recalled the many sermons I sat through as a chapel choir member in order to better think as he would. I even took up kickboxing in case I had to write hand-to-hand combat scenes.

Ultimately, I have as little control over my characters as the programmers who created Skynet in the Terminator series. I can imbue them with quirks and habits, take them places and put them in situations, but how they behave for a reader is beyond my control. Each reader will interpret the characters’ actions differently and come away with a different impression, and—if I’ve done my job as a writer—I’ll be entirely invisible. 

Get your copy of Mary's book, Artificial Absolutes, Amazon USAmazon UK, or Barnes & Noble. Also available in paper from Amazon US or Amazon UK.  

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EdwardLorn said...
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EdwardLorn said...
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EdwardLorn said...

Let's see if I can get this right this time.

Very good post, Mary. I especially agree with this bit, "...but how they behave for a reader is beyond my control."


?wazithinkin said...

Great post, Ms. Fan. I appreciate you sharing your process. As a reader I find it fascinating.