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Monday, April 4, 2016

GUEST BLOG: Why Character Agency is So Important by Jadah McCoy

Today, Fantasy Book Critic welcomes Jadah McCoy as our guest blogger for the day. Jadah McCoy is the author of the new sci-fi novel, Artificial. Artificial is scheduled for release April 4, 2016 and is published by Curiosity Quills Press.

Summary of Artificial:

She struggles to feel human.

In 2256, the only remnants of civilization on Earth’s first colonized planet, Kepler, are the plant-covered buildings and the nocturnal, genetically spliced bug-people nesting within them: the Cull. During the day, Syl leaves her home in the sewers beneath Elite City to scavenge for food, but at night the Cull come looking for a meal of their own. Syl thought gene splicing died with the Android War a century ago. She thought the bugs could be exterminated, Elite city rebuilt, and the population replenished. She’s wrong.

Whoever engineered the Cull isn’t done playing God. Syl is abducted and tortured in horrific experiments which result in her own DNA being spliced, slowly turning her into one of the bugs. Now she must find a cure and stop the person responsible before every remaining man, woman, and child on Kepler is transformed into the abomination they fear.

He struggles not to.

For Bastion, being an android in the sex industry isn’t so bad. Clubbing beneath the streets of New Elite by day and seducing the rich by night isn’t an altogether undesirable occupation. But every day a new android cadaver appears in the slum gutters, and each caved in metal skull and heap of mangled wires whittles away at him.

Glitches—androids with empathy—are being murdered, their models discontinued and strung up as a warning. Show emotion, you die. Good thing Bastion can keep a secret, or he would be the next body lining the street.

He can almost live with hiding his emotions. That is, until a girl shows up in the slums—a human girl, who claims she was an experiment. And in New Elite, being a human is even worse than being a Glitch. Now Bastion must help the girl escape before he becomes victim to his too-human emotions, one way or another.

Join us as Jadah talks about one of the most important aspects of any novel – characters. 



This may come as a surprise, but writing characters who think and act like real people is pretty hard to accomplish.

What exactly makes a character believable? Can you remember the last character that really stuck with you and what it was that made them so memorable?

Humans are complicated creatures. Sometimes our hearts don’t reconcile with our brains. Sometimes we make dumb decisions we know are dumb. Sometimes we don’t make sense. And sometimes we don’t understand our own actions and reactions, let alone can we expect other people to understand them.

The beautiful part of being human is that we are able to make these decisions for ourselves. That we are inherently vulnerable creations, and our vulnerability is like a pearl hidden within a shell. Something you have to search for, to earn.

There’s a natural ebb and flow to life. To every action there is a reaction. But, unfortunately, life is not a book. Sometimes the loose threads don’t tie up so nicely. Sometimes the plot isn’t so easy to follow. And sometimes, despite the choices we make, we can’t control fate.

But, like a choose your own adventure, those choices do affect which page we end up on. Each person has agency in their own life—their decisions create the outcome of their story.

What the frick frack does character “agency” really even mean in relation to the wonderful world of book writin’? Character agency is such an integral part of writing believable characters, and it’s something that many people don’t really notice at all when reading.

Chuck Wendig puts it eloquently by saying, “Character agency is…a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive.”

In other words, the story responds to the character’s actions, not the other way around. Too many times I’ve sat in bed screaming at a character for their stupidity, for their inability to control anything around them, including themselves. Too many times these characters have done the Incredibly Stupid Thing because only the Incredibly Stupid Thing would move the plot forward, and it’s only at the expense of that character’s credibility. Just because isn’t good enough.

When decisions are taken away from the character, they become merely a pawn in a contrived chess game—one where all the moves are already planned out, and no matter where the pawn goes, the results will end up the same.

Characters are living things, like you and I. They think, they speak, they love and hate, they have desires and ideas, and they rebel (and often I can’t even control mine, they just commandeer whatever attempted plot I had penned out).  They are three dimensional. They are people on paper, and people have reasons for what they choose to do. They have thought processes, which sometimes they care to share and sometimes they don’t (not even with their own author).

Humans are incredibly social creatures, and we connect with each other through empathy—through sharing each other’s emotional experiences. It’s the same with a written character. When we pick up a book, we want to be swallowed in the story—to suspend our disbelief for a few hours and feel the characters’ sorrow, their anger and disgust and joy, and experience them as a real person.

Without agency, the character can only be a cardboard cutout, a frustratingly dull puppet with no real sense of direction other than where the puppet master directs them to go. And the reader (unless they’re a marionette or made of cardboard) can’t identify with that.

It’s worth remembering that characters are, at their core, people. We are diverse, we run deep, and we are beautiful in our contradictions. We are tangled strings, and sometimes when a string is pulled, one knot comes undone while another knot grows tighter.

Characters who have agency pull their own strings with no care for the knots, and that makes them worth remembering.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Wonderful post. I can see it being hard to get into someone else's head, and not your own. lol. Thank you for sharing!

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