Guest Article - Creating Broken Characters

Escapology

The author of the cyberpunk thriller Escapology, Ren Warom, has written us a fantastic article about her experiences of creating Broken Characters...

Burroughs said that he was trying to write himself human. That idea clung to me in a way nothing else quite has. It rings true to me. For me. I’ve never felt real. I’ve always felt like a patchwork of a person, all the masks I’ve worn to try and look right jumbled up inside, hiding the possible reality of nothing at all behind them. I’m pretty sure a lot of people experience portions of this fear. I certainly know I’m not alone in it.

It seems natural to me, then, to write characters searching for the lost parts of themselves, or trying to figure out how to build a person from scraps, from ill-fitting parts––odds, sods and spares. Characters who try their hardest and still fail, because success is not a given, not even in a story. Characters who make a mess, are a mess, become beautifully messy.

I think there’s a false equivalency around emotional pain and weakness––people seem to place the two hand in hand, as if one cannot exist without the other. That those states arise from some sort of character defect or flaw, that the choices people make in pain and fear are also made in weakness, when the truth is often a whole one hundred and eighty degrees different.

So many things go into how we move through life, how we face our choices, no matter how terrible. The characters I write face situations I know are real, where sometimes there is no choice at all, or the choice is only between several equally terrible things, which is just another way of saying there’s no real choice at all. That, too, feels real to me, and that can happen to anyone. You only have to look at real world situations like the Syrian refugee crisis to understand that.

Writing real people and real situations into unreal or re-imagined worlds helps me to understand not only myself but people in general. I’m no Burroughs, but just as he was trying to find his own humanity, I’m trying to find all of it. Understand it all. Trying to explore what a piecemeal person does in those situations, for good or bad. Building a scarecrow character, putting them between fire and a tornado of crows, and seeing how they fall, how they walk through. What burns. What comes apart. See what remains.

I think by writing or reading about people being just as flawed and human as yourself, you begin, by degrees, to understand that broken is OK, as long as it’s still breathing, still trying. And that’s where I’ll always try and take my characters, because even though the world is sometimes hopeless, it’s amazing how people don’t give up, how they still fight to mend when there seem too few parts to glue back together.

No matter where we’re from, or what our story is, we all try and sometimes fail to make sense of the riddle of why we’re here. We fight and cry and build ourselves castles of false hope, calling them mountains and pretending we can climb them, pretending we won’t die of oxygen deprivation, that the view will be magnificent. Sometimes that’s not even a lie. We laugh and riot and mend and make do. Make bad choices and hard ones. Good ones too.

Sometimes the choices we make, make life magical. Extraordinary.

I think of all these things when I write my characters. Most of all though, I think of Burroughs and the power of words, of writing out your humanity––setting it down in ink and sealing it with sand. Making it absolute.

I think it’s all we have. All we really have any power over.

Many thanks to Ren Warom for letting us share this article.

Image - Titan Books