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How to humanize your character part one

Published by captain kate in the blog captain kate's blog. Views: 178

Before the rivet counters get going, the sections I'm using are from a VERY ROUGH draft of the novel I just finished. It's resting a bit while I get the second started. So, I wanted to make that clear.

Humanizing a character is one of the hardest things to do as a author, especially if they write action stories or space operas with lots of action. The problem is that the more action a character (fight scenes, battles, naval warfare) the harder it is to make that person seem real. Look at the John Wayne movies and you'll see what I mean. All macho..no real humanity until you reach 'In Harm's Way' near the end of his career and life.

Ok, how do you do this? It comes from their attitudes and experiences. If you've finished a battle scene (and I know there are critics of the act-react method but this is where it works very well) the next chapter, once the battle is done is a good way to do this.

Let me set the table for these actions. Talia has had to use her Gahl cruiser to wipe out a Task Force that was going to destroy a colony. They left her no choice whether or not to do so. Twenty thousand lives verses several million..do that math. The naval battle is over, and she's heading over to the Bismark (and don't read too much into it, there's a convoluted plot that makes it being a 'German' ship not necessarily a solo group.) to briefly question the Task Force's CO before he's taken into custody. Her reactions to the battle are so:

Talia sat beside the shuttle pilot in the cockpit, and crossed her arms before closing her eyes. Four ships destroyed in less then six minutes, with the flagship reduced to a floating hulk. Ten thousand lives snuffed out like snapping her fingers and it disturbed the experienced warrior. Why would humans want to do things like this to each other?
That defined the entire course of events and it lead her to sigh softly. During the course of a losing war, she’d seen more death then any one person should ever see and deal with, but none of it compared to the Cabal’s attempt at seizing total control of human space. Once they achieved their goal, what would be next? Take over the galaxy?

She's sitting there, brooding to herself about how unnecessary the entire battle was. What is shows, right after she's had to command a devastating battle, that she has a conscience and is bothered by what happened. It brings her back into line with a reader who'd be feeling the same way at the time. Your reader has emotions, and thoughts, like the character's do, and when the story helps illustrate how the villain's (or multiple villains in this case) cause unnecessary events to happen.

Talia crossed her arms and sighed. “What a waste.”
“What a waste of human life. None of this had to happen. Ten thousand lives snuffed out in less then a minute.”
“Better them then us.”
“Yeah. Tell that to the parents who lost their child, and the wives and children either widowed or fatherless. They are the victims in all this.”
“I’m just glad they didn’t kill the colony.”
“Wrong way to look at things, Lieutenant. It’s very short sighted, because while it might be safe today, nothing guarantees tomorrow. Think big picture.”

Another case of how you humanize your character. Talia's looking at a young marine officer, fresh from OCS and trying to give life advice about how futile combat is. Without going into great detail, Talia's lived 20 thousand years so she's seen it all, and is trying to pass on what the horrors of combat are. 'Yeah. Tell that to the parents...' Is a line meant to show the weight of command and the price decisions carry. What it's done is show that a character who might have to do something bad, understands the consequences of their actions, and how it affects others and not just herself. Another good example of that, is the Honor Harrington series-especially the early one's where Honor's commanding a single ship and you'll see it done in a similar fashion.

(In this little piece of dialogue, it's not tagged so I need to let you know the order. It's Admiral Rickman first, then Talia who's still hiding under the guise of being Kate Almir when she's not)

“No one likes a smart ass.”
“And no one likes a traitor, Admiral.”
“You would in my position.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Admiral. I wouldn’t, because, as a warrior, my honor is the most important thing. It’s not for sale.”
“You say that now. It’ll change if someone offers enough.”
“I’ve turned them down too.”
“That was stupid.”
Talia spun around, pointing at everything and the view screen devoid of anything other then the Valiant. “Stupid? What’s stupid is getting ten thousand people killed in less then a minute and for what? You’re personal lust for money and power?”
“You don’t have the first clue about how this is working out. Josephson only does what he’s told, he gets his walking orders from above.”

Here she's humanized again with the statement 'my honor is not for sale' because so far, all the enemy officers are corrupt. It allows for Talia to be shown to be honest, trustworthy and not just someone who'd go off like a loose cannon. It allows for the reader to further see the vulnerable side of a character and what he or she stands for.

And she shows, again, how futile combat is-especially when done for the worst of reasons. She's showing the reader that she's above having a lust for money or power, which allows the reader to really latch onto her as the heroine and main protagonist.

Part two will come tomorrow on how to use scenes that don't involve battle to humanize also. They work a bit differently.
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