Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creating Well-Rounded SFR Characters

Susan Macatee is the author of several Civil War-era romances including the forthcoming time travel novel ERIN’S REBEL (Wild Rose Press, July 2009). For more about her stories of romance and adventure visit her Web site.

And for all you Steampunk fans who would like to learn more about the Victorian era, visit her group blog, Slip Into Something Victorian.

Heather’s invited me to guest blog here on The Galaxy Express and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Thanks, Heather!

The fact is, although I have a few upcoming releases in historical and historical/paranormal romance, I’m making my first foray into science fiction romance. I’ve finished the first draft and am now revising.

Erin's RebelI’ve been reading science fiction since I was a teen and always thought my first novel would be in that genre. But life intervened. By the time I was ready to pen that first book, I’d immersed myself in the American Civil War and wrote a young adult Civil War novel that I did manage to get published, but it’s now out of print. Then I discovered the romance genre, so my first romance novel ended up as a Civil War time travel. But it is time travel—hmm—must be some of that science fiction influence in there somewhere.

I’m currently working on my first ever science fiction romance, that I’m calling MOONS OF CYNARA. What I’d like to share here is how I strove to develop intriguing, full blooded characters in the hopes that it will inspire your own SFR.

The novels and stories in the science fiction genre that were most memorable for me as a reader, whether they contained a romance or not, had characters I could get emotionally involved with. Even the shows I liked all had characters who intrigued me and whose backgrounds were explored. Those were the stories that made me want to write like those authors so my own characters would be loved and remembered by readers too.

Characters in any kind of novel need to be full-fleshed and have lives and backgrounds that are well developed and take place before your story starts. Even comic book characters have to have a life before the story begins, giving them a reason for their actions and beliefs. This is what makes a character real to the reader, no matter how far-flung the story’s setting.

In working through my time travel romance and subsequent stories, I took a number of workshops that stressed the psychological building of characters. I’d always loved my psych classes in college and found the workshops fascinating. By following the instructor’s suggestions, my characters became real with believable motivations.

When I came up with the first inkling of an idea for Moons, what I envisioned was a young woman, with long, dark braided hair in a spacers uniform, pacing the hall of a medieval looking structure on an alien planet. She was waiting for someone.

This woman became my heroine, Captain Kyra MacKenzie. I decided she was the captain of an exploratory Earth vessel and had been forced to deal with a diplomatic dilemma between Earth and a band of aliens set on enslaving human colonists on a far off planet.

And the next question was, who was Kyra waiting for. Well, she was awaiting an audience with a hostile alien general, but her biggest problem—and we need some big problems for our heroine at the start of the story to intrigue readers—was that she would be forced to work with a military linguist already on planet, sent from Earth to study and immerse himself in the aliens’ language, so negotiation would be possible. And this linguist was none other than Kyra’s former lover, who she’d had a brief relationship with back on Earth while both were at the Academy seven years before.

Of course, all of this back story won’t be in the book except for references made and in thoughts of the characters during the course of the story. But these characters needed a past. Something that shapes who they are and what they do as the story unfolds. And because this story is primarily a romance, despite the science fiction background, the love story takes precedence.

Will they work out their differences as they battle against a common enemy or will they end up killing each other? When things do start to jell again between them, will either or both survive to have a chance at the future they’d earlier denied themselves? And if so, will they be able to change this time, so they have that chance of a happily ever after?

Besides the hero/heroine, I also have secondary characters with the beginnings of their own romantic journey in this story. If I sell the first novel, they’ll likely end up in a sequel where their own love story will have time to develop. One of these characters is a descendant of Earth colonists. The Native American tribe settled the planet in the hope of living the life their ancestors did on the American plains. After arriving at their new home, they destroyed the technology that had brought them there, so they could live free from all encumbrances to the lives they left. But the character’s grandfather—one of the original colonists—keeps some of the technology hidden in case of an emergency. If found out, he would be severely punished, so no one can know about it.

Another secondary character is an alien, native to the planet. She’s a priestess to the Mother Goddess, who her people worship. She was chosen from birth for this purpose and had been taken from her parents at an early age and sequestered in a convent, awaiting her 21st year, when she will take a vow of celibacy.

Besides these characters, we also have to have a villain. In this story, that would be the invading alien general, who believes his race has the right to mine the planet’s resources for their own world and use natives and colonists alike, as slaves, to achieve their purposes.

And now the stage is set for a science fiction story filled with romance, adventure, and heroics, as well as a few questions about ethics, as the hero, heroine and other major characters weave their way through the story in the search for love, justice and honor in the face of interplanetary war.

For all of you SRF writers out there, does the germ of your story idea start with a character or the plot?

And for readers, is it the characters or plot that draws you into a SFR story? Or any story for that matter?