- Guest Post by Nhys Glover
Let me first state that I don’t believe it’s possible to make characters believable. When you write, those characters have to become people to you, before they ever have a chance of becoming credible to someone else.
That doesn’t mean you have to know your people inside out before you begin to write. I know some writers create a whole biography for their central characters before they start. But that’s not how it happens for me.
When I write, I start with a picture in my mind of the person I’m going to write about, in much the same way as I might describe someone I meet for the first time. They’re just an image in my mind behaving in a certain way, at that point. If I like what I see, then I’ll allow my Muse to follow him or her on their adventures. I try to write about everything they think, do and say that moves the story forward.
But ultimately I’m an observer, and so when my people do things that surprise me, I have to know why. That’s when I start to get more deeply into their heads. Why is Pia so shy and insecure in The Titan Drowns? Her subservience is actually rather annoying to me. So I let her show me her early life in Norway, before the Last Great Plague changed everything for her, as it did for every survivor. And when I saw where her thinking has led her astray, I was then able to introduce her to people on the scene who could give her a better perspective, and I could put her into situations that provided her with further awareness. So just like real people my people are always growing.
Sometimes my people are based on historical figures, and I allow those real lives to give me the perspective I need to find a place for them in my story. That’s what happened to Maxwell. I’d read about one of the celebrities who went down with the Titanic, and I found him fascinating… stuffy and very upper-crust, but with the heart of an artist and a champion of the underdog. So I let that real person morph into my imaginary person, complete with an imaginary wife who is a manipulative, unfaithful schemer.
Place influences people. So my Max had a very typical Victorian upbringing that warped his sexuality. In his case, he’s remained celibate because sex is disgusting. My job as the facilitator of my people’s growth is to introduce them to just the right person who can love them. In Max’s case it’s Eilish, an uninhibited but hitherto equally celibate woman from the future. And sparks fly from the first moment.
In the New Atlantis series this kind of instant attraction always happens because it’s part of my world’s dynamic. As I said, place influences people. It must. In the case of my world of New Atlantis, Old Timers suddenly go from emotionally numb to painfully alive as soon as they meet their Key or Soul Mate, which spins them out and often brings up stuff they’ve kept buried for hundreds of years. By describing that psychological process I add to my people’s authenticity.
So if you want to make your people credible, believe in them yourself. This doesn’t make you crazy; it just makes you capable of ‘suspending belief’. If you expect your reader to suspend belief to get into your story about flesh-eating zombies, then you have to do it too, whole-heartedly, before you even put pen to paper.