Making A Realistic Character

I’ve received several comments about my character Kita and how real she is. I thought I would share my process. Over 20+ novels and I’ve developed several writing techniques on how to make Kita accessible and believable. Having a believable character requires more than technique, but planning.

When I set out to write BykeChic, I sketched out Kita’s backstory and environment. This is important as it’s the lens Kita sees the world through. I identify several key traits that define her, and I believe work well together. These traits form the core of Kita’s personality in the beginning.

In BykeChic, I’m trying to cut down on Kita’s god-like abilities. At the beginning of BykeChic Kita is a normal human. Getting her to be realistic this time around is different than in Birthright. Birthright was an excersise in getting the reader to like someone they would have little to relate to and performs anti-social behavior which the reader wouldn’t agree with. In Bykechic, Kita’s environment is different. She has the same DNA, but has a more supportive and loving childhood–her mother dies young and is raised by a single father who cares for her very much. When her father dies, she does lose her sole support structure and is left on her own for three years. At the beginning of BykeChic Kita is an insecure loner survivalist loyal to her dad. Kita’s willing to do what is necessary to stay alive–running the yard after her dad died and hide her sexuality in a town that would shun her.

The story follows Kita’s progression as she becomes more confident and willing to stand up for herself with the help of an alien she meets. Kita is forced to come to terms with the death of her dad and how to remain loyal to him. In the beginning, returning from college to run her father’s salvage yard was her way of dealing with the grief, but became a trap leaving her without a way to move beyond her grief.

Kita lives in a small town on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Even though she lives in a liberal state Reading, Cali is highly conservative. Kita believes her business suffers because a girl is doing a man’s job. She, because of the violence and discrimination seen around the country, fears that announcing her sexuality to the town will damage her business further and put her in danger. This leaves her isolated, but not paralyzed. She dreams of a girlfriend. She was supposed to attend college in Angel City where she hoped to find acceptance and friends.

Early in BykeChic when Kita meets the alien, it takes an emotional life or death argument to get Kita to leave what she knows and accompany the alien to Angel City. In the timeline of the book, Kita moves fairly quickly from isolation to accepting, but she relies heavily on the emotional support of the alien and the progression seems natural from the alien to Ryan and a third character. Typically, this is a process that can take a long time, depending on the severity. Kita isn’t a severe case, she’s young and resilient. But, she can’t shake it entirely. It influences her decisions and actions throughout the story.

To make Kita feel relatable and realistic, I spend time writing about her decision-making processes when she makes major decisions. The reader gets to see how she thinks and can relate to these introspective moments. How Kita gets to the decision is as important as making it and showing the consequences. Showing the logical progression of Kita’s choices helps connect the reader, even if it’s the wrong decision, but they understand how she got there. This process is more evident in BykeChic that Birthright.

With Kita, I stay away from tropes. It means more writing and delving deeper into her psyche, but I believe the character appears fresher and more realistic. I don’t want the reader to assume anything about her. This allows for surprises and hypocrisy, which all humans have and most writers consider bad for character development because their characters aren’t consistent. Hypocrisy is not an excuse for random or inconsistent behavior. There has to be a reason for it. I try hard to explain Kita’s thought process behind the reasoning for her inconsistencies. It’s not the inconsistencies that make her real, but the reasoning behind them.

If you read BykeChic, one thing that Kita does that I don’t see in many books is she talks to herself, especially early on. Sometimes these are just random comments on the situation or questions about what’s going on. These simple phrases introduce the reader into Kita’s mind. Everyone has an internal monologue and introducing the reader to Kita’s helps the reader connect with the character. This is also a valuable way of being able to show Kita’s emotions. Like a lot of people, she doesn’t always express what she feels, but this allows the reader to experience what she does.

The world around Kita influences her behavior and the more real the world, the more real the character. I’ll save the worldbuilding of BykeChic for another post, but the world is important and so is how Kita interacts with it. What Kita knows how to do and what she doesn’t give the reader a sense of her past and her interests. Telling what Kita thinks of her world is a way to influence what I want the reader to feel about it. Kita’s likes and dislikes are another reveal into her personality and help readers connect with her.

I hope this was helpful and helps you make your characters better.

How to Write an Action Scene: Part 1

I decided to write this post for four reasons. The first was a friend of mine, Mark Gardner, asked me to write an action scene for his upcoming book, War of the Worlds: Firestorm. This was a completely different kind of action scene than I’ve ever written. A Martian, Think the aliens in the Simpsons, must escape a burning laboratory while out running a deadly gas. His shape, size, and lack of abilities made him a unique challenge.

As for the second reason, I’ve been shopping my own book Birthright around and I’ve found I’m a thousand words short of publisher’s requirement of eighty thousand words. I didn’t want to go back and add fluff, because I’ve worked so hard to take it out. Instead, I looked at my plot and realized there was no action scene at the end of the book to showcase my main character Kita’s new augmentations and abilities.

Thirdly, I love action scenes. Anytime someone asks me how to improve their books I tell them to put a dragon in it or at least the equivalent. I did it in Birthright. Dinosaurs count as dragons, right? I subscribe to the J.J. Abrams school of thought, go big or go home. Unlike Abrams, I do have my action sequences make sense and be believable to the reader.

Lastly, I did a little research on this subject and found that all the blog posts about writing action scenes are nothing but silly rules that don’t tell you anything about writing an action scene. I’ve come up with a list of things that will help you write a killer action scene: environment, characters, drama, and the goal. Today I’m going to talk environment and characters.

The environment. This is where your action scene takes place. An action scene can take place anywhere. What you have to do as an author is to arrange and populate the space with things that can be used to maximize the scene. For example, in WotW: Firestorm the main scene took place in a laboratory. I populated it with glassware, lab equipment, and workbenches—what you’d expect to find in a lab, but all these things are used to create the action scene. Here’s an example:

Climbing onto the nearest workbench, it was covered in something wet. Let’s hope it’s not toxic, he thought with a shuddering of his tentacles. Steve climbed across the workbench to the edge. It was over a meter and half. Below him on the floor was a pile of burning lab equipment that had caught the workbench and floor on fire.

Steve stood up on the tips of his tentacles, and rocked back and forth. When he was moving forward he jumped, landing in the middle of the next workbench. He signed in relief, but he couldn’t relax. The end of the next workbench was engulfed in flame. The open end had a set of glassware taking up most of the space.

Around Steve the roar of the fire continued, urging him onward. The sarin gas could arrive at any moment. He set himself up for his next jump, hoping to land in front of the glassware set.

Steve jumped, but overshot his target. He crashed into the glassware, crushing some underneath him and sending the rest to the floor. He snarled over the pain of several shards of glass penetrating his tentacles. I cannot worry about superficial injuries, he thought, I must get out of here.

You can see the environment at work here and how it’s shaping the action sequence. The more you give yourself to work with, the more imaginative you can be. But, don’t put something in the scene that doesn’t belong, unless you have a good explanation how it got there and have established it beforehand. Ex Machina is something the movies love, but as an author, you want to avoid it at all cost. For everything, there is a reason.

So now that we have a place for our action scene, let’s talk about characters. In WotW: Firestorm Martians aren’t the most agile, but does have long tentacles that give them reach. Steve the Martian is in stark contrast to my character, Kita. She is an Olympic gold medal caliber gymnast and a master with the sword. Their action sequences are going to be very different. If I put Kita in the lab from WOTW: Firestorm, she would have had no problem making it from one side to the other. There wouldn’t be much drama there. Look at your character’s skills and abilities and plan your action scenes to challenge these. If you make it too difficult the character is going to die, too easy and your reader will lose interest. The reader is going to know what your character is capable of. If your character has never handled a gun before, nothing ruins the action scene more than your character picking up a gun and being a crack shot with it. It just doesn’t happen in real life. Now, if they picked it and failed to hit anything, not only is that believable but helps elevate the drama which I’ll cover next time.

That’s it for today. Next time we’ll cover drama and goals.