A story can have a vibrant world and a brilliant plot, but it’s all for naught if the characters don’t act like genuine people (or elves, trolls, whatever, you get it). This blog series is about creating authentic characters who act and react realistically in fantastic and futuristic worlds
Characters in sci-fi and fantasy often have paragon attributes and powers far above the average person walking around on the street. Even an ordinary citizen in a sci-fi likely has sensational gadgets that we don’t currently have access to.
So, how do we make an elf, wizard, or bionic woman seem more realistic? The best way to ensure the authenticity of any kind of figure is to craft your character, give them a set of distinguishable traits, and, and this is the most crucial part, stick to those traits.
In successful science fiction or fantasy stories, the audience suspends their disbelief. For me, I’m willing to allow a writer to take me on implausible journeys to distance futures and surreal worlds. I want to believe in an alien or wizard. When a wizard or alien acts out of character or does something only to blatantly further the plot, my disbelief returns, and I’m no longer wrapped up in the story. I may even stop reading it.
Hobbits Hide and Dragons Hoard
Read this exchange from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, between the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and the dragon Smaug:
"Well, thief! I smell you, and I feel your air. I hear you breathe. Come along! Help yourself again, there is plenty and to spare!"
But Bilbo was not quite so unlearned in dragon-lore as all that, and if Smaug hoped to get him to come nearer so easily, he was disappointed. "No thank you, O Smaug the Tremendous!" he replied.
"I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say. I did not believe them."
"Do you now?" said the dragon somewhat flattered, even though he did not believe a word of it.
"Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities," replied Bilbo.
"You have nice manners for a thief and a liar," said the dragon.
Bilbo is tiny and rogue. Lying isn’t beneath him, and hiding is a necessity. Here, the dragon’s natural strengths, his enormous size, and his gold hoard are detrimental because Bilbo is, by nature, adept at hiding.
While both characters are tricky, neither of them fools the other. This is important. Bilbo tricking the dragon might help the plot, but you don’t get to be an ancient, wealthy dragon if you’re fooled by the first bit of flattery hurled your way. Bilbo wouldn’t go charging at the dragon to slay him. He’s a hobbit; hobbits hide.
To ensure characters’ authenticity, they must have a set of distinctive attributes and a background story that plausibly gives rise to those traits. They should adapt and change throughout the story in an arc that makes sense to their history and personality. The Bilbo Baggins at the end of The Hobbit differs from the one at the end of the book, but he still has most of the same fundamental characteristics.
Authenticity in Action
To check for authenticity, take a few minutes and write something that your character would never do. Maybe they’d never eat meat, perhaps they’d never have children, perhaps they wouldn’t steal under any circumstances or go to bed without saying their prayers. Next, start building their backstory by writing why they’d never do it.
Other Blogs in this Series:
A quick note: This will be my last blog for a month, apart from my Tripping the Multiverse cover release on November 17th. I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo for November. I’m only completing half the challenge. I can’t commit to a full novel because *gestures to everything,* but I plan on completing the second half of the next book in my Jade and Antigone series. Exciting times!