Monday, December 12, 2016

Bonding with Your Characters -- a guest blog by novelist Edward L. Rubin (THE HEATSTROKE LINE)

Bonding with Your Characters

a guest blog by novelist Edward L. Rubin (''THE HEATSTROKE LINE'')

One of the things I learned in writing my first published novel, The Heatstroke Line, is how
important it is to bond with the characters that you create. Science fiction, the genre to which my book
belongs, is more noted for its imaginative settings and action-filled plots than it is for its
characterizations. But the more real the characters seem, the more they behave like internally-
motivated people rather than devices to advance the story, the more engaging any work of fiction is
likely to be.

Of course, I knew from being a reader how important it is to create convincing characters.
Harold Bloom argues that Shakespeare’s true greatness is that he was the first writer, and still the best
writer, at creating characters that have the complexity of real human beings, and I agree. The question,
of course, is how to do that when you are sitting at a desk and typing words onto a blank page or a
computer screen. It’s easy enough to say that you should see the world through the character’s eyes,
but that is more of a cliché than a strategy. I found that the best way was to develop an emotional
relationship with my characters. This is easiest in the case of the protagonist, particularly if you’re
writing in the first person, or (as I did) in the third person from the protagonist’s perspective. But I
found that I needed to see the protagonist as a friend, rather than as myself. I needed to be deeply
concerned for his welfare, but I also needed to truly admire his good qualities, regret his limitations, and
feel amiable amusement at his foibles.

In The Heatstroke Line, the main character, a thirty-nine year old scientist, falls in love with an
enigmatic young woman named Deborah. This is an extremely uncomfortable situation for him because
Deborah is in her late teens, barely older than his oldest child, and he is living in her parents’ home. I
found that I could only make Deborah’s character work if I fell in love with her as well. This was also
uncomfortable for me, but I could only write these passages to my satisfaction when I started having
imaginary conversations with Deborah, dreaming about her at night, and feeling sad that I would never
meet her.

Villains are a special problem. It’s not hard to create a character who does horrific things, and
then to pile on various threatening or unappealing physical features, but I think the danger of doing this
is that the reader will feel manipulated, or – worse still – get bored. In some cases, a villain doesn’t
need to be particularly human and will work fine in the book as an external force. There is one such
character in my book and I purposely didn’t give her a name; the protagonist calls her “the leopard
woman” because she is wearing a leopard print dress during his first confrontation with her. But most
of the action in my book takes place when the main character is taken prisoner by a group of people
who are otherwise living normal lives. These people have bizarre ideas, but to portray them as pure evil
would have been tiresome as well as unrealistic. I found that the best way to make them come alive
was not to see the world through their eyes (I couldn’t do it and I wouldn’t want to) but to feel
sympathy for them, to understand that their behavior, despicable as it often was, emerged from real
human need. In the end, my main character began to feel the same way, and I think that made the book
more interesting for the reader.

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