Dreaming in colour
Hi everyone, I'm Rebecca Lim, author of Mercy, Exile, Muse and Fury and a bunch of other things for younger readers like:
I'm the author-in-residence for August 2012. Over the next few weeks I'll share some of the things I've learnt about getting published and some of the things I like to do when I'm writing a novel.
Today's ramble from me is about world and character building.
We live in a dark, complex and densely-layered world, and that goes for each and every one of us, too. Every person has secrets and dreams and flaws; some people just paper them over better.
When I'm creating a fictional world and people to move through it, I subscribe to that Japanese way of looking at things that's summed up in the words wabi-sabi. Paraphrasing badly, it means something like "beauty from imperfection." To me, a character is more complete, more beautiful, more memorable and interesting, if they are flawed. And the world they inhabit - especially if it looks like ours - has to be as wide and amazing and conflicted as ours is if it's going to go anywhere near seeming "authentic" or "real".
Now not dissing "Neighbours" in the slightest, but when I was a teen, no one in Ramsay Street looked like me or had the range of friends I did. So when I finally started to get things published, I was granted the ability to adjust the "real" world my characters lived in to include Chinese kids and Columbian kids, people who spoke Spanish or Russian, Italian or Latin, or who were forced to work as strippers or waitresses just to make ends meet. I've tried to fill my books with the kinds of people we live side-by-side with, the kinds of people we are. And that's not to foreground anything, or to push any kind of wheelbarrow, I just do it because it adds to the "reality" of the story and the characters, and reflects the world I live in.
I'm all for letting your freak flag fly. And Mercy, the heroine of the Mercy novels epitomises all that. She's different from the exiled angel protags I know of because she's female and not especially "hot". She's bad-tempered and not especially likeable either, because she keeps "waking" to find herself inhabiting a stranger's body with no memory of how she got there and no idea who's doing it to her, or why.
With Mercy, I consciously set out to create a female heroine who can, literally, do anything if she puts her mind to it. I wanted to show that it's okay to be a smart-mouthed, think-on-your-feet, strong and abrasive, yet empathetic character, who also happens to be female. Mercy's life - and the life of the girl she's collided with - may be in utter chaos, but despite everything that is thrown at her, she will always be smart and quick witted and lethal. She may be forced to bend, but she will never, ever break.
My take is, if you're going to write fantasy - urban, steampunk, whatever - you need to ground it and dirty things up and give it a patina of realism before you can even go off the map. But that's enough from me for today. I'd love to hear what you do when you're crafting new worlds and new people to live in them.