Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where I'm at, part one (b)

Kett's character, again.

Kett is a complex character who needs a lot of explaining, in fact so much explanation that it takes up a whole book, let alone a blog post. See below for Kett's background, and why she is like she is.

By the beginning of Dragon Knight, she's living on a remote ranch in the mountains, training dragons with her friend and mentor Jarven, who only speaks about five words a year. She doesn't want any sort of relationship with anyone, and is even prepared to give up sex in order to live in peace. She's abrasive, prickly and self-defensive, and she moves with a limp after an incident involving a sabre-toothed tiger three years ago.

How can I make her more likeable, without changing everything she is? This is the challenge. Standard tricks usually involve giving the character something cute and fluffy to care about, but I've never really bought that, because finding a puppy or a kitten adorable isn't a trait only shared by nice people. Plenty of psychopaths love animals.

Kett has many reasons for distancing herself from people--nearly all her relationships have gone horribly, horribly wrong--but can't escape the people who actually seem to like her, namely her stepmother and half siblings (her father, Tyrnan, is a bit of a question mark). Bael of course likes Kett a great deal, but he's quite insane, and besides I need to come back to him. And of course there's Jarven, who's always been there for her as a sort of surrogate older brother.

But why do they like her? Well, her stepmother, Nuala likes everyone. She's one of those effervescent people who sees good in everyone and wants to bring it out and make people happy. In fact she's the polar opposite of Kett in that respect. So she's not much help to me. What Nuala wants is for everyone to be as blissfully happy as she is, and since marriage and children have made her happy, she thinks it will work for everyone else (in this respect, Nuala is like every married person I've ever met), including Kett, who's tried marriage on for size and found it a very bad fit.

Her father? I did actually write a scene where Tyrnan tells Kett he's proud of her. He doesn't really understand her all that well, and he realises he's screwed up on several levels with her, and he treats his younger daughters quite protectively. Kett thinks this is because he's ashamed of her and doesn't want them to turn out like her; in fact, he wants to protect them from all the things that have hurt Kett.

What about her half brother and sisters? I've been thinking about it, and there aren't many scenes where they really interact--and when they do, it's Kett discovering something surprising about her siblings, not them making revelations about her. But they do like and respect Kett an awful lot. Why?

So, fix number one: Let the reader see what Kett's siblings see in her. That while she's scary and aggressive, she's using attack as the best form of defence. Kett is vulnerable to being hurt, just like everyone else--in fact, more so, since she's suffered so badly at the hands of people she thought she could trust. Kett's family are proud of her, because while she's a proper nutter she's also brave and loyal, smart and resilient.

Okay, next problem. Kett is very self-defensive, to the point of aggression. Why? Well, she's been badly hurt, repeatedly, and has seen everything around her turn to crap more than once. To protect herself and other people, she keeps her distance. But did I explain this in the book?

Fix number two: make it clearer why Kett pushes people away. It's a textbook reason anyway.

What about her violent streak? Well, she's been trained from a young age to be a mercenary--the knight of the title. Added to which, right from the start other kids made fun of her, and Kett learned they were less likely to do so if they were scared of her. And it's not hard to get people to be scared of you when you can turn into a tiger.

As she got older, Kett repeatedly got herself into fights. She actually actively looked for violence, culminating in picking that fight with the sabre-toothed tiger who gave her the limp. In her earlier years she was quite a nihilist. Since nearly losing her ability to walk, she's calmed down a bit. but maybe not enough?

Fix number three: tone down the aggression. A few well-placed gestures to demonstrate that she's not afraid to take care of herself are better than pages of angsty fight-picking.

Okay, that's some work on Kett's character. Next up, I'll be working on Bael. Meanwhile, I have to try and fix the plot. And believe me, there's a lot of fixing to do...


  1. I was once told that readers are like ducklings. You need to do something very, very early on in the book so it imprints itself on them. So can you show Kett's vulnerability - maybe as a stream of consciousness - right on page one, for example? Once the reader likes her, you can get away with just about anything.

  2. You've got me nodding here as I read this. Kett actually seems like a character I'd really like. I like heroines who cover up their vulnerability by being prickly and she has better reason than most.

    But I agree that the reader needs to see her vulnerability along with her prickles. Essentially you have an alpha heroine, here, and you can get away with almost any amount of alpha-ness as long as the reader understands why.

    The challenge is showing that rather than telling that and I loved reading your thoughts figuring out how to do that.

    Go you!

    B. H. aka Julie

  3. Because I'm me...and I'm one of those fighter kind of gals...give her something that she will go insane fight mode over and make that her vulnerability....

    ie. no hurting kids....I know, I leave a lot of balance, but if you see something done to a child, you kinda go off the deep end and that exposes a vulnerability.

    I'm not sure if that helps?

  4. Jan, that's really useful! now then, little ducklings: here is your heroine as a strong woman who has been badly hurt and is quite panicked. Are you following me?

    Stacia, I've just run the story through my head and you know what? There are absolutely no children in it! There's an incident halfway through where she rescues a younger woman from three boys who are taunting and about to attack her. Perhaps I can use that to echo some of the taunts and abuse she put up with from other kids when she was younger.

  5. Julie, you're right, she's a total alpha female. I keep writing these, and it's not easy to find a man to match them!

    The problem I always have with alphas, and the reason I don't write many alpha males, is I find them unsympathetic. I liked what you said about your rewrites for Delicious, and making your hero self-confident instead of arrogant, etc. If I can soften Kett's offensiveness to defensiveness, it might work!