How Characters Respond

I’m continuing to draft, and doing so for the first time in the month of May. It’s a difficult month for me for a number of reasons and I’m hoping drafting will help. Most important to me at the moment is witnessing how my characters come to life. For all my planning, the one element of a story I’ve never been able to foresee with absolute clarity are the deeper aspects of a character’s personality.

I know there are a number of devices that people use, like question and answer formats. They’ve never worked for me. My answers always amounted to how I thought my protagonist would respond, not how she would in reality because I’d yet to discover all the little quirks in her personality. I’d yet to follow her through good times and bad.

In many ways, this month’s novel, Following the Essence Stone, couldn’t possibly be a more vivid example. Trying to predict Ametha’s reaction to her extraordinary circumstances was beyond me.

Orphaned as an infant, and of a unique mixed heritage, she was placed on the sterile Astral Plane for her own protection. It was a logical decision made by logical wizards. It also accounts for her seventeen years of instruction that filled her head with facts about the life she’d return to in Carrdia. It also robbed her of life experiences.

When the story opens, she’s returned to the Real Place sooner than she was supposed to, and she isn’t in Carrdia. Instead, she’s in Pannulus. The closest comparison I can make is expecting to return to a dystopian nation in 1860 and instead ending up in New York City in 1925. Oh, and you have obvious characteristics that scream different. Meanwhile, there’s no one to explain what’s happened. Her initial reaction is that some kind of madness has overtaken a country already in the depths of torment.

She initially appears in an alley in the evening, her incorrect destination not readily apparent. Still, already distressed because she wasn’t supposed to return to Carrdia alone (and ill because there’s a medicine she requires and she doesn’t know that), she walks to the end of the alley.

March 18, 2020. I took this minutes before leaving work for the last time. Photo: CA Hawthorne

People are wearing strange clothing. There are rolling machines. A different machine passes overhead. Oh, she’s also landed in the worst part of town.

It isn’t enough to say she, or anyone else, would be unnerved. Any of us would make desperate attempts to understand, but how do you understand a nation you didn’t know existed? What levels of fear, rationalization, and countless other emotions would come into play and then create a new mix?

It’s made all the worse because she stumbles from one bad situation to another. The lone comfort she possesses is the Essence Stone about her neck. It warms to her touch when she needs it, giving her virtual hugs if she asks for one (or are they her imagination?). The necklace, after all, had originally belonged to the mother she never knew.

I think back to fourteen months ago when the pandemic hit and our societies began shutting down. More vulnerable than most, I was, I believe, more scared than most in those days leading up to leaving work for what I believed would be a temporary departure.

Instead, I never went back and only today did I return to collect that which I’d left behind. It was a casual ride on my bike. It was reunions. It was difficult moments around every corner because it was as if I’d never left. My desk, much to my surprise, hadn’t been touched. It was as if I’d stepped away mere moments before. That, I believe, shook me more than anything, that sense that more than a year had never happened.

May 5, 2021. Same chair, same desk, same everything—for the last time. Photo: CA Hawthorne

Of course, it had. And so I filled my backpack with items and rode away

Over the course of the initial pandemic months, everyone reacted differently. I went from hyper cleaning/rearranging at home to depression to adapting to the new normal with a new routine. On the 31st of this month it’ll the first anniversary of my having adopted a yoga practice. That, in turn, inspired ilyana pneuma, which was used in the novel I wrote in November 2020.

Getting back to confused, inexperienced, and naive Ametha…

She’s, unfortunately, in more trouble than she knows. On the one hand, she’s witnessed a mob hit and overheard plans she shouldn’t have heard, On the other hand, her entry into Pannulus via magic is deemed illegal and so the government is trying to track down the person they assume is a terrorist from Draskrith.

That’s a lot of (unfavorable) accomplishments in one evening.

So, there’s the initial shock. Then, there are all the surface emotions I’ve alluded to. After that came the deeper emotions and comprehending all the life experiences that were stolen from her for seventeen years. It’s the new experiences that will define her for me, and for the reader.

Believe me, thus far those experiences are doing a good job. That’s a sign that I’m on the right track. If her character wasn’t deepening and growing I’d know something was wrong (like in the old versions of her story that went nowhere).

Too, Ametha is the wild card in the lives of all those she comes into contact with. Their responses to her differences say a lot about them and how they grow (or don’t), which, in turn, influences her. It’s all a complex web that I can’t predict.

I have a heading, which is the plot I’ve developed. I have a crew, which are the characters and their backstories. Now, it’s time to see how they all respond in times of crisis on the long voyage that is drafting a novel.

About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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