Saturday, February 7, 2015

Characters Don't Have Perfect Lives Either

I haven’t written a character who was perfect or whose life was perfect since I was seven and madly printing (by hand) my opus about flying horses, flying cats and princesses. With a riverboat captain as hero, mind you. Pretty sure he was perfect too. No problems in his life, probably not even any challenges navigating that river, unlike the real Mississippi.

And I’m positive to anyone other than seven-year-old me and my parents, that story was probably boring. No growth. No conflict. No real people. The flying cats were probably more compelling than my perfect princess and her riverboat guy.

As an adult, I know I’m not perfect, nor is my life problem free (surprise!) and my characters can’t be in that perfect life condition either, not if I want anyone to find their story interesting. Our theme this week was supposed to be characters with flaws but my twist on the theme is characters with less than perfect lives.

In Wreck of the Nebula Dream, my military hero is suffering from PTSD, self-medicating with a lot of future-liquor and generally not a happy guy. Obviously PTSD as a result of a combat experience is NOT a flaw in any way - it's a result of  living through severe emotional trauma and coming out the other side. His life as a special forces operator has left him suffering the emotional costs of some heavy life experiences.

But he’s the right man in the right place when the ship suffers its catastrophic wreck and he steps up to save others. Events of his recent past continue to cause him problems at key moments. He has to work through that and trust in himself to bring about the needed rescues.

One of the most fun people to write in Wreck was actually a secondary character, a high living rich young thing named Twilka, who is S-P-O-I-L-E-D and more than a bit clueless. You might think she had the perfect life but no. She grows up a bit over the course of the novel and eventually does her part to help everyone survive.

When the small party of survivors ventures to the hold of the badly damaged ship, seeking a vital piece of equipment, here’s what Twilka has on her mind:

“Maybe I can get some of my jewelry,” Twilka said, clapping her hands together, as if the idea had just occurred to her.
Which, Nick reflected, knowing Twilka, it probably had.
Eyes open wide, she gazed at them, perplexed no one else was as happy. “I wasn’t going to need it all on the cruise, so I checked some of it.”
“How much more could one person wear?” Mara said it nicely, eyeing Twilka’s complicated set of gold chains, charms, earrings, rings and bracelets.

And once the group has broken into the area of the hold they need to access, here’s her reaction:
“Hey, it’s every bit as messed up in here,” Twilka called out, having impatiently and imprudently gone ahead. Apparently she wasn’t worried about taking any precautions. “How am I supposed to find my jewel case in this mess?”
“Maybe she should get the hint she’s not supposed to,” Mara said to Nick, half under her breath. “Is she for real?”
He shook his head. “Real enough for her own world, I guess. A bit lost in the current situation. The ’Lites aren’t used to dealing with mundane issues, like the rest of us, who don’t have generational billionaires for ancestors.”
“Lucky she has us.” Mara shepherded the children in front of her into the bonded stores enclosure. “I never spent any significant amount of time with a Socialite before, I have to admit.”
“Has its interesting moments.” Nick walked after her. 

Twilka was a hoot to write and I’ve had a number of readers ask me to write the sequel about what happened to her next, after the events in Wreck. I might actually tackle that story in 2015 – it would certainly have quite the character growth arc!

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