Thursday, May 22, 2014

When Your Character Isn't Quite Human Anymore

Nothing challenges me more than my current work in progress.  Why?  Because my main character is non-corporeal.  She's a spirit, not a ghost, mind you, but what I call a "steam child".  Those of you who've read my latest novel "Tracks" will understand that these are free spirits accompanying the great locomotives traversing my world of Hobohemia.  Meet "Red", who stars in my upcoming addition to Hobohemia - "Storm Child".  You can gather from the title that things are not going to be all that free and easy with her.  You'd be right.

So here I am with a main character who cannot be seen unless she envelops herself in steam or some other similar medium (she uses snow at one point).  She is impervious to most physical dangers, including the biting cold of a Nebraska winter.  She isn't going to be interested in most of our carnal pleasures, so there's no sexy romance possibility here.  She isn't interested in physical gain, money, or power.  In short, a lot of the drama possibilities we writers rely on won't be part of my tool set with her.  What to do?

The first law in any fantasy for me is best described by another character from the hit television fantasy "Once Upon A Time".  He is fond of saying that "All magic has a price, deary."  How true.  This is the first step in bringing my steam children down to earth.  To make them believable.  Having first been human, the ladies still remember what they no longer have.  The ability to touch, to enjoy eating, and more importantly for Red, they carry the luggage of their childhood with them.  For Red, a deeply conflicted orphan before the rails sang to her, there is a gnawing sense of insecurity and betrayal that continues to fester in her heart.

It is the relationships and unresolved emotions that will make Red likable by a reader and have them forget that she is more spirit than person, because I will make her very human inside.  She does have limitations, can get exhausted, captured, and even fade away in despair.  Or become something worse when the inner torments become the lightning in her eyes and the thunder in her temper.  Love, and the need to be loved, countered against misplaced feelings of being cast aside by the one she had trusted most - her mother.  Once again I explore family values in this novel, as I had in "Tracks", but this time things are much darker.  I do this in such a way as to paint a very real and sympathetic character in my little steam child.  Double the challenge when she must be the villain most fear.

In the end, I provide a story about a person, regardless of who or what they are, or if this is a fantasy or straight fiction.  The story remains the same.  This is the secret of working with those who are other than human.  You make them even more human.

For those of you intrigued by a world of hobos, rail barons, and steam children, I encourage you to read "Tracks" and follow a young man in search of his sister.  If you've already enjoyed the novel, please leave a short review on Amazon or Goodreads.  Honest reviews are a writer's currency.



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Your character's deficits are a real challenge for any writer. I have no doubt you can do the humanizing with the POVs of others. A very clever idea.

Liz Fountain said...

My theory is that these non-human characters give us an even deeper window into what it means to be human. In them, we can exaggerate human traits, keep a sense of humor, and/or push things well past the limits of "realism" yet keep it all completely true.

This sounds like it will be a ripping good story.