Know Your Characters

I don’t understand how some people can write one draft of a novel then declare it finished. Like so many authors, I must write several drafts before I know the whole story and truly understand my characters. Until then everything is sketchy.

During one of the many drafts, a character will do something totally unexpected, which could change the course of the story.

In a scene in Pegasus Colony, Rona Montgomery is talking to Qorow Low, a resident of the planet, Akiane, about a disease that’s killing her people. Rona is a biologist and wants to find a cure.

The people of Akiane don’t believe those of Earth are on their planet to help them. They believe the off-worlders were sent by World Space Coalition, who abandoned them over 300 years ago, and had come to take possession of them by declaring them an Earth colony.

In this particular scene, Rona is trying to recruit Qorow Low’s help. Suddenly Qorow Low opens her winter jacket to reveal a newborn child strapped to her chest.

I was completely surprised. I had no idea that she had a baby, but I liked the idea, so I added it to the story.

In the first book, Qorow Low is a minor character, but after I learned about the child, she became a main character in the second book, Storm’s Coming. From mother and child we get a better understanding of the alien people, their way of life and their emotional state.

Once my plot has solidified and I know who my characters are, everything begins to fall into place. Plot gives me direction, but characters, their wants and needs, their actions and problems, drive the plot to its conclusion.

In the first draft, I have a superficial relationship with my characters. I cannot tell their story. I don’t know what their motives are in regards to their problems.

After many drafts we become intimate. I know their greatest secrets and fears. I come to understand their motives and am able to help them find a solution to their problems.

In the trilogy, People of Akiane, there’s an unknown illness is killing everyone.

Qorow Low’s dying child is her motivations to contact Rona.

Her problem is her community’s reaction to that contact.

If she does nothing, her entire community will die. Unfortunately, there are those who would literally rather die than ask the off-worlders for help.

Qorow Low is torn between loyalty to her people and betraying them in an effort to save her child.

If she works with Rona and they find a cure, she’ll become a hero. If there’s no cure, Qorow Low will not only have lost her child, but will become an outcast.

No one in the community is ever alone, but as an outcast, there will be no one to care for Qorow Low when she becomes sick. No one will prepare her body after she has died and no one will carry her to the resting place.

Now that I know who she is and what her problem is, I can write Qorow Low’s story.