Category Archives: characters

The price of power

So, I think that one of the problems that I have with so many books and movies and television shows these days is that the writers often forget that power should always come with some kind of price tag.  More than that, though, that the price should be, both related to the power it accompanies, and somehow similar in scale.

One of the most annoying things I find in vampire literature is when the only downside to becoming a vampire is that you get all whiny.  I’ve read a few books like that.  The main character bemoans his status and considers himself damned, but has a totally manageable bloodlust, a slight aversion to sunlight, and is completely unaffected by articles of faith.

One of my favorite examples of the cost of power properly associated with the degree of power is in Firefly.  You have the Captain, whose skill and resolve are the result of having the joy and hope beaten out of him over the course of a long and miserable war.  Zoe, the consummate soldier, is incapable of shedding her attachment to military formality.  She MUST obey her captain.  She MUST hide her emotions.  Then there’s the doctor, who has dedicated himself so fully to his practice that he is barely functional outside of a hospital.  He is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, constantly unable to relate, but dammit he’s brilliant.

You can go down the list, and each and every character has a greatness associated with them, that has also cost them in some way.  And the most powerful character, River, is also the most flawed, being, depending on how you view her, either completely nuts, or one hundred percent sane.  Either way it amounts to the same thing, and makes her as much of a liability is she is an asset.

Character Building

So, one of my favorite parts of being a writer is creating characters.  When I was younger, pretty much all the characters I wrote were based on me.  I’ve tried to get away from that more as my writing matured, but if I’m honest about it, I put more than a little bit of myself into most of the people I write.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  The thing that’s on my mind is how one goes about building a character.

Specifically, I’m interested in what goes into the core of a character.  One of the things that fascinates me when I get into conversations with real people, is how they identify themselves.  What it is about themselves that they consider to be something that they do, and what it is about themselves that they consider to be who they are.  One of my favorite examples is sexuality.  I’ve had friends who were straight, gay, bi… I don’t think I ever had a friend who was pansexual, but, frankly, I haven’t had deep discussions on sexuality with everyone I’ve ever been friends with, so who knows.

But the thing that I cannot wrap my mind around is why we consider sexuality to be so closely linked to who we are.  And there are many instances where a persons declared sexuality is not entirely in line with their behavior.  There are women who have had sex with more women than I have who consider themselves to be straight.  There are men who have had sex with more women than I have who consider themselves to be gay.  Now, that is partly because I haven’t had sex with a lot of women, but it also has a lot to do with this thing that has embedded itself in us that tells us that sexuality is related to identity, not behavior.

I heard once, from someone who used to perform surveys about sexual behavior, that they are very precise on their terminology when they make those things.  They don’t refer to someone as gay, but as a ‘man who has sex with men.’  They have to, because they’re trying to deal with the medical realities associated with sexual behavior, but people will answer the question based on their perception of who they are.

I wonder what the world would be like if we looked at more things that way.  If the genres I read were part of ‘who’ I considered myself to be.

Me?  I’m scifi/fantasy.  I mean, sure, I experimented with mysteries when I was younger, and once I had this thing with, well, it’s embarrassing to admit it now, but I followed this non-fiction writer for a while.  I know, I know, it was crazy.  What’s the dirtiest thing I’ve ever done?  Oh, wow, uh, that’s a bit personal, but…I used to go into the library, only in the middle of the week when most people were in classes, and I’d wait until I knew nobody else was on the floor with me and… I’d read military thrillers.  Oh god!  don’t look at me like that!  I was in college, you’re supposed to try weird stuff in college!

It isn’t an exact parallel, obviously, but that’s the thing about sexuality, nothing is an exact parallel.  Finding analogies and different ways of looking at these things is part of what it means to be a writer, I think.