R. S. Belcher: Building Character

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Shotgun Arcana cover picWhen I began work on my first novel – The Six-Gun Tarot – I made a decision to make as many of the characters in my tiny little town of Golgotha, Nevada, as unique as possible. I wanted everybody in the town to have some dark secret, some special gift, or some unique history. I have received some very positive feedback on my characters in Six-Gun, but I don’t think it was just giving the shop-keep a wife who was a head in a jar, or making my female protagonist a member of a secret Lilith cult, and a living weapon to boot— I think the reason my characters breathed for people was because I tried to make them, well…people.

At this year’s RavenCon, I was fortunate enough to be a guest and to have the honor of being on a panel with some very cool folks discussing the concept of “Writing the ‘Other’” (here it is on YouTube if you’d like to watch it— http://youtu.be/OCZ8POMs588). Fantasy and SF have traditionally, and ironically, been genres chock full of straight white guys. You might have a sentient green vapor cloud from Ganduras VIII in the novel you’re reading, but how many female or GLBT protagonists have you seen in a space opera or high fantasy?

As humanity changes, adapts and evolves, it behooves us, as writers, to try to create imaginary people that real people can relate to, root for, and give a damn about. And, no I’m not talking about making the sentient green vapor, a gay sentient green vapor for the sake of diversity; I’m talking about visualizing characters that may be very,very different in back story and lifestyle from you, the person at the keyboard. It’s a challenge, it requires research, and empathy and above all, respect for someone else who lives their life a way other than you do.

At a recent panel at the Virginia Library’s Festival of the Book, I was asked by a writer in the audience about how he could make his futuristic characters seem more three-dimensional—they seemed kind of wooden to him. I told him to focus less on the time period, less on the exterior and more on the interior of the person.

The Six-Gun Tarot and its sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, are set in 1869 and 1870, respectively. I never lived in that time—I’m no history scholar but I write my imaginary people from the prospective that regardless if it’s a thousand years in the past, or a million years in the future, if dragons rule the skies or technology has made us like unto gods, human beings will still hate and fight, cry and worry, resent, covet, care, rail against paying taxes, laugh, screw, doubt, die, and love. Those things, and all the things that spin out of those messy parts of us, can bring a being made out of words to life more than any brilliant metaphor, masterful plot, or subtle subtext.

 

Rod RT pic 1R.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, is scheduled for release by Tor on October 7th 2014. His novels, Nightwise, and The Brotherhood of the Wheel are to be released in 2015 and 2016, also by Tor Books.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children, Jonathan and Emily.

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2 comments to R. S. Belcher: Building Character

  • Great to see you here, Rod. And I love the cover of the new book. I also agree with you when you say that creating believable, relatable characters is an act of empathy and respect. I like to say that being a really good friend and being a really good writer demand similar skills, namely the ability, completely and convincingly, to place yourself in the emotions and thoughts of others.

  • Thanks, David! I’m very honored to be asked to do these posts, and it’s a huge amount of fun! My son asks when we are going to meet up again with you. I think you made quite an impression on him! Hope it’s soon. Take care, my friend.