Thursday, February 26, 2015

Likably Amibiguous?

In the middle of writing my new novel, I've encountered a challenge.  My main character is responsible for saving the human race from extinction and relocating them to a new world to start over after Earth is ravaged by a mindless alien race.  Sounds like the stuff of an epic hero, right?

Um, not quite.

The main character is going to have to do some unsavory things in the name of saving people, and that will include actions and decisions that not everyone will agree with.  The reason for this is that it's necessary in order to maintain as much realism in his decisions and the consequences as possible.  It also provides drama in making people wonder at the cost to our soul of survival in the worst of circumstances.

These things may be great to read about in history books, but details often make people cringe.  Just as many people laugh about a character like Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory but would be horrified to have to deal with him in real life, knowing what's done for results can make folks uncomfortable.  It's one of the reasons the American people rapidly lose the stomach for wars fought in their name - the gory details of reality have a way of making us sick.

The issue, of course, is that I don't want people to root against my character.  His arc is central to the story, so I can't have people so repulsed by him that they want him to fail.  I want them to understand the difficult situation he is in and that there are not always straight right and wrong answers.

Threading this needle means showing his human side, as well as him losing some of his humanity, while striving towards a greater goal that will keep us alive.  I began by introducing his family and their death, as well as the effect that had on him.  He is very young, and God knows how losing a wife and young child would affect any of us.  This loss drives him from essentially being a coward - another aspect I hope doesn't drive people from him - to a single-minded vengeance machine, and then to a man who accepts responsibility for saving as many as he can.  Will readers sympathize, or will they see what he is doing as equivocation that is beyond the pale?

Characters drive our stories, and a slip up that turns people against what you're trying to do can be fatal to the narrative.  I hope I've hit the right spot.

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