Authors and characters…

Some readers and reviewers try to identify an author’s characters with the author or some alter-ego of the author. FYI: writing fiction is NOT the same as writing an autobiography. In fact, because characters are fictional creations, they usually have no relationship to the author.

Consider the antagonist, the villain. Your average author isn’t a psychotic serial killer, mad scientist, or a sociopathic business person. You wouldn’t expect an author even to aspire to be one of these. But a good mystery, thriller, or sci-fi story can’t exist without a good villain.

Vladimir Kalinin AKA Rupert Snyder AKA Sergio Battaglia appears and reappears in various novels of mine, from The Midas Bomb to Soldiers of God (that implies a timeline; it’s contained in a PDF free for the asking). He’s a sociopath with occasional good qualities (most notably in No Amber Waves of Grain). As far as I know, I have no mental aberrations beyond being a fiction writer, and my elementary knowledge of Russian has all but disappeared, so I’m not Vladimir Kalinin and shouldn’t be confuse with him.

Consider an ET character. While it’s hard to write a sci-fi story containing a completely alien character and her or his culture, I’ve done so in the Singer and the Swarm, two ET “characters” with collective intelligences found in Sing a Samba Galactica (Swarm makes an encore in the third novel of the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy”). These characters are the strangest I’ve imagined, but the Rangers (humans’ first contact with them is also described in Sing a Samba Galactica) are almost as strange, but they become good friends of human beings.

AIs are also often strange characters in sci-fi books—Heinlein’s Mike in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is one of the best, and HAL, a villain in Clarke’s 2001, redeems himself in 2010. In an Asimov novella where a robot becomes self-aware, the robot is quite the character, as is Daneel Olivaw in Asimov’s sci-fi mysteries Caves of Streel and The Naked Sun (Daneel receives acknowledgement in my sci-fi novel Rogue Planet). Ship (also in Samba) is just another crewmember for Odri and his ET friends, but it gives refuge to the mental essence of the murdered Henry Posada and of the U.N. security agent Jenny Wong.

Human characters are a bit easier than ETs or AIs, and it’s more likely that an author portrays them as an amalgam of many people s/he’s known rather than partial clones of the author’s persona. But the imagined ones, if done well, can be even better. Mine are imagined. Hopefully they seem real. Clancy said fiction has to seem real, and that goes for fictional characters.

Of course, both ETs and humans are all too often stereotypically portrayed. The author should avoid that. If characters are done well, imagined or amalgams, they should seem like real 3D personalities (4D if you’re counting their pasts), not 2D cardboard imitations. That makes fiction come alive. Add good plots, dialogue, settings, and themes, and the author is on her or his way to end up with a great story.

But readers also have to realize that human characters’ dialogue and thoughts aren’t the same as the fiction author’s either. My Detective Chen is conservative; my Detective Castilblanco is progressive. They still care about people and form a great crime-fighting duo, while Kalinin, often their nemesis, only cares about himself. The priests in Muddlin’ Through care about people; those conspiring against protagonist Mary Jo Melendez are self-serving and despicable.

An author can imagine a wide spectrum of behavior in her or his characters. That’s part of the fun in writing fiction, of course. If an author wants to be in a book, s/he should do it as a cameo and not autobiographically. I’ve done that a couple of times. Also fun. If writing fiction isn’t fun for a writer, s/he should stop doing it.

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Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas…

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