Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting in your Character's Head

You've got a solid character in your story.  You've given them a name, a background, likes, dislikes, goals, motivation and anything else you can think of.  But what makes them really tick?  What's really going on inside that head of theirs?  Finding that out makes them less like a cardboard cutout and more like a real person.  In this post, I'm going to take one of my own characters - the antagonist - and dissect her a bit.  I've already interviewed her, in the 'My Work' tab here, but this time I'm going to really try and get in her head and show you what makes her do the things she does and why she reacts how she does to the other characters in the story.

So let's sit down and meet Camellia, shall we?

Before we do that, though, it's essential to go over a few things.  First of all, she is a young lady born in the year 2159, and she was born with a crippling handicap.  She was born without the nanobot-implanted atomic chipset allowing connection to the Plexus, the entire virtual world of communications, media, and every other type of social interaction imaginable.  The majority of communication is via the virtual world, so it's essentially the equivalent of being deaf or blind nowadays.  In 2186, the physical world and the virtual world are so interconnected that it is nearly impossible to interact in society without such a connection.  Legislation of the day makes such a connection mandatory, putting her in quite a difficult situation, and this is the one thing the medical community cannot fix.  The connections to the Plexus are created in the second trimester of pregnancy, while the brain is developing.  Once a baby is born without those connections developed, they cannot be added.

The easiest solution for her would be to consent to connection by proxy, where she would be implanted with data rods to allow rudimentary connection to the Plexus.  It would allow her to perform basic daily tasks, such as virtual communication, obtaining licenses and registrations, receiving a standard education, and the like.  It would not, however, make her normal, by any stretch of the imagination.  She would not see the virtual world as others saw it, and would have to input a proxy code at every step, instead of threading the connection to her mind, eyesight, and hearing like is normal in that time.

That is the root of Camellia's mental disposition.  She is proud, with a stubborn streak the size of California, and refuses to connect via proxy.  She would rather be a non-entity than to be so handicapped.  She would rather be non-human, so to speak, than to be sub-human.  It's a small distinction, but a very vital one to her.

Part of why she is so stubborn stems from how she grew up.  Her mother, a destitute Off-Plex herself, died and left Camellia to the streets at a very early age.  Her father was never in the picture.  Camellia was forced to grow up without ever knowing about the Plexus.  The only inkling she had of it was from watching other children she had occasional contact with.  She knew they were communicating in ways outside of what she could sense herself, but didn't know how to learn their methods.  She grew up mimicking them, at first to appear like she fit in, and later to mask the fact that she was an Off-Plex, and thus outside the law.

She's found a niche for herself, but it's come with a heavy price.  She secreted herself into the Institute of Dimensional Research and made away with a time strata jump craft, and makes a living jumping back in time to retrieve rare literature and sell it on the underground.  It goes without saying this is highly illegal, but as she's grown up under the radar her entire childhood, dodging agents trying to track her down is simply a part of life.  She's smart, she's confident, and she's good at what she does.  At times it almost becomes a perverse game for her.

She's almost completely an alias now.  Even her name is a pseudonym.  She was born with a different name and only began using Camellia as an attempt to cover up who she really was.  Now she is simply Camellia; her old self almost completely ceases to exist.

So it should also be obvious she's very cautious about trusting anyone, almost to the point where her distrust cripples her actions.  Trusting someone must be a conscious choice, and only after all options and possible outcomes are carefully weighed and considered.

In spite of this, she's very human, and maybe even more susceptible to the need for interaction than anyone.  After all, she's spent a lifetime trying her hardest to fit in, while still disguising the crippling difference that prevents her from being completely normal.

And that is perhaps her one greatest wish, to become normal.  Not to connect via proxy and be forever reminded she's different, but to really connect, as normal as the next person.  She would give almost anything to do that, but it's the one thing that is completely out of her grasp.

So that begs the question, why doesn't she just relent and accept the government's program of connection via proxy?  What would be so bad with that decision?  It's not like she isn't acutely aware of her differences now.  What difference would it make to just consent and live life as normally as possible?  Others older who were born before such implantation have had to make the adjustment.

Well, don't think she hasn't thought about it.  She almost did it a couple of times.  Came really close, as a matter of fact.  But in the end she just couldn't do it.  She knew she couldn't live with herself if she'd have done it.  And it's not that she couldn't have had it reversed on the underground.  Lots of folks have.  Of course, they're Monochrome.  That's what they call the crazies and conspiracy theorists who are far enough out there on the edge as to cut off fingers and gouge out whatever other body parts they know or believe have data rods embedded.  Some of them are even blind or deaf because of the extremes they've gone to.

And that is probably the number one reason she hasn't gotten connected via proxy.  She simply can't face the thought of becoming Monochrome, and everything that implies if she should change her mind, rather than just being an Off-Plex.  Besides, she's too all-or-nothing for that anyway, and with the success she's had eluding capture, she's more emboldened than ever.

But the more we get to know her, the more we understand this is all a façade.  She's grown up that way, putting on a front so others will think she's something she's not.  It's become almost second nature for her.  It's ingrained in everything she does, so much so, she'd be hard pressed to show anyone her true self.

As the story progresses, we find out that she's not the invincible, completely confident woman she appears to be.  There's more to her incredible luck and consummate skill at avoiding capture than meets the eye, and instead of being always one step ahead of everyone, we find she's narrowly avoiding disaster at every turn.

She's unaware of some of this, but acutely aware of it at times, leaving her wondering just how much is her skill and abilities, and how much of it is just pure dumb luck aided by the actions of others.  This further goes to eroding at her confidence while reinforcing her need for a tough, capable façade.

In the end, her efforts to remain an Off-Plex coincide with her sharp desire to connect to the Plexus in a perfectly normal way.  One would think offhand that would be an oxymoron, but it's not.  It simply reinforces the all-or-nothing mentality she has and causes her to stick to her course of action even harder.

But let's look at her personal life for a second before closing.  That plays a big part in her persona as well.  She's been ostracized and shunted to the edges of society, forced to hang out with Monochromes and other unsavory characters "like her".  And while that's largely because of choice, it doesn't mean it's had any less of an impact on her.  She still needs people.  She needs contact with other human beings, perhaps more so than normal.  She longs for it, even though her first thought is to push them away.  Her self defense mechanisms conflict strongly with her psychological needs for human interaction, as limited as that might be with her lack of connection via the Plexus.

So when someone comes along offering that much needed human contact, she's torn.  On the one hand, her defensive senses are tingling with the fear of opening up too much and exposing herself to danger.  On the other hand, she experiences feelings and emotions that although still quite foreign to her, are badly needed on a psychological level.

And she evolves as the story progresses.  Her interactions with the other characters, each with his own set of motivations and beliefs, cause her to rethink what she really believes in and how she views the world around her.  And because she interacts with people not only from her own time continuum, but throughout several centuries of history, their perspectives are very different, and cause more change in her than might have happened otherwise.

All in all, she's a very complex character.  Quite unpredictable at times.  And there's more to her than first meets the eye.  So much so that it takes quite a while for us to see the full extent of her emotional range as the story progresses.  We keep peeling back layers to find an even greater set of complexities until we finally reveal a person quite unlike what our first impressions of her were.  In the end, we're left with quite a different character than we'd started out with, and different still from how we'd perceived her in the beginning.  We see not only how she's changed, but how our perceptions of her have changed through the story.  She's gone from being the villain to being a sympathetic victim to finally being the hero, at least in our own minds.  And that part of her wasn't the part that changed.  What changed was simply her perception of others, and of societal norms.

And so in the end, we're faced with loving the character we thought was the villain when this all started.  We empathized with her from the start, but that should be the case with any good antagonist.  It was when we realized she'd made the gradual, subtle change from villain to hero that things got weird.  We saw her completely different than we did at first, and were faced with the realization that we'd probably changed more than she had throughout the course of things.

And that's not a bad thing, after all.

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