We hop here today from the blog of Tim Lees, author of supernatural thriller The God Hunter, which is out now from Harper Voyager and can be bought from all the usual places (HarperCollins, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK, Amazon US, etc.). His post is about his novel’s hero Chris Copeland, god-hunting Field Ops agent. Many thanks to Tim for tagging me in this blog hop.
This is how I’ve described my main character in my summary of Belt Three:
Jonas is a tank-born, Administrator caste–but for the last six years he has been masquerading as a true-born, one of the ruling class whose ancestors walked on Earth. While fleeing from his doomed mining outpost he is kidnapped by the space pirate Keldra, who forces him to help her in her obsessive campaign against the Worldbreakers, the alien machines that destroyed the planets and left humanity living in the debris. As he tries to understand his captor and is forced to face the demons of his own past, Jonas finds himself torn between escaping, seeking revenge on Keldra for killing his crew, and joining her in her crusade.
I don’t feel like I ‘met’ my main character until half way through writing my second draft. As I developed the novel, his character changed more than did the plot, setting, theme, or other characters.
Originally, Jonas wasn’t even my main character. I invented him as a lens through which the reader could view the real main character, the space pirate Keldra–an Ishmael to her Captain Ahab. (Literary pretension alert: yes, my novel is influenced by Moby-Dick. While working on it I made sure to read Moby-Dick so that I could be influenced by it directly rather than second-hand via The Wrath of Khan.) In the first draft, Jonas was exactly what he seemed: a true-born business-owner, born into privilege and not caring much for his underlings.
Background note: society in the world of Belt Three is divided into a small ruling class of true-borns, who can trace their descent by natural reproduction to people who lived on Earth; and a majority of tank-borns, sterile clones who are assigned a caste (such as Engineer, Pilot, or Administrator) and begin life as indentured workers until they have paid off the debt incurred by their own creation. Tank-borns often have brain implants that give them specialised abilities but also can be used to monitor or control them; true-borns almost never have these implants. The two classes are legally and culturally separate, with true-borns owning the businesses, cities and space-ships in which tank-borns work. Whether someone is a true-born or a tank-born is therefore the defining fact about a character in this setting.
My original idea was for Jonas and Keldra to be villain protagonists, criminals the reader would root for even though they were horrible people. Jonas had the social skills and high-society contacts–Keldra was the technological genius–together they would commit thrilling crimes! My beta-readers, however, overwhelmingly told me that Jonas was too unpleasant a character to be fun to read.
For my second draft, I tried to make him more sympathetic without changing the core concept. I invented a backstory in which his family was poor compared with other true-born families, and he had always been friends with the tank-borns and sympathetic to their plight…but it didn’t work, and hindsight it’s obvious that it was never going to. It’s hard for a character to be sympathetic if they’re both a member of the elite and an unpleasant person, especially if they spend the first part of the book in a position where they’re feeling sorry for themselves (e.g. kidnapped by a space pirate). But I couldn’t make Jonas not a true-born without throwing away the entire plot: for one thing, the fact that he’s a true-born, and therefore potentially worth ransom money, is the reason Keldra captures rather than kills him in the first place.
About half way through writing the second draft I struck upon the solution: Jonas was not a true-born, but he was pretending to be one. This let me have the best of both worlds regarding my plot, as well as instantly adding complexity to his character. I came up with a backstory for how he assumed the identity of a true-born business-owner. I won’t go into that backstory here because spoilers, but it became the emotional core of Jonas’s character and the pivot for the character development he goes through in the novel. It also added tension to scenes where he interacts with genuine true-borns (will he be found out?), and allowed me to change one antagonist from a fairly generic bounty hunter to a true-born obsessed with preserving true-born racial purity.
Even now he’s more sympathetic, I wouldn’t say that Jonas is a hero. He’d like to be, but knows deep down that he isn’t, and that tension between who he is and who he’d like to be forms the starting point of his character arc. Keldra does see herself as a hero, even though the rest of the world sees her as a deranged criminal. The world of Belt Three isn’t really a setting for heroes, though. The time when heroes could have saved the Earth was hundreds of years ago; the war is over, humanity has soundly lost, and it is only a matter of time before the last remnant becomes extinct. Even aspiring to be a hero in this setting–even feeling guilty that you’re not one–marks you out as something unusual.
Belt Three is due to be published in summer 2015 by Harper Voyager.
Next up on the blog hop is A.F.E. Smith, author of the upcoming fantasy novel Darkhaven, about which she says this:
Myrren Nightshade has been overlord of Darkhaven for less than a day, and already he has a brutal murder to deal with. Not just any murder, either. His father is the victim – and his sister Ayla is the only suspect.
Born without the shapeshifting abilities specific to his bloodline, Myrren has always considered himself inadequate. But now it’s up to him to prove his sister innocent before the law finds her guilty. Aided by a reluctant priestess, and hampered by a Captain of the Helm determined to block him at every turn, Myrren must navigate his way through a maze of secrets and lies to the truth at the centre – even if it could destroy him.
Meanwhile, Ayla Nightshade has problems of her own. Fleeing from the threat of incarceration for a crime she didn’t commit, unable to take refuge in her other form, she is alone and friendless. The only person willing to offer her aid is the man she despises above all others: the man she holds responsible for her mother’s death.
To find out more, and be in with a chance of winning a copy of the ebook when it’s released (as well as some other great prizes), you can join the mailing list at http://www.afesmith.com/contact.html.