Music has always been a major part of my life, and as this series of posts have shown, a huge influence on me as a writer. Not just in helping shape the key moments of a plot, or the emotional resonance of a scene, but in building the characters.
Of all the characters I’ve ever crafted, none have given me the fits that Chara, one of the leads in my novel War Witch: Rise, has managed to. Not just from a writing standpoint, but from that all important emotional one.
My first concept of Chara as a character was as someone who was painfully naive, overly enthusiastic, and not terribly aware of what was going on around her. The problem this created was that she was obnoxious, annoying, and completely unlikable.
This is not a thing you want in a main character.
Over the years, as I tinkered with the story off and on, the main difficulty always came back to Chara and how to convey her as a character. While I certainly didn’t want anyone who read the story to flat out hate her, I didn’t want to give up the traits that defined her a person, either.
When I started work on the final draft, I ended up tackling her from a different perspective, one that I found in the song that ended up defining her as an individual, keeping the things I wanted, but adding some needed understanding of her point of view.
First off, let me say this. The biggest revelation I had as I started writing the final draft of Rise was that Chara didn’t necessarily need to be a likable character. This was something I learned working on another series of books I was writing, Bunnypocalypse.
The central character of that series is Bunny Beckman, who doesn’t give a shit if anyone likes her, including the reader. She is who she is, and she does what she does in a world overrun with zombies, never asking forgiveness or understanding. As I dealt with Bunny and her hard ass approach to everything, I came to understand that it’s okay if a character isn’t completely likable.
When I was doing the massive rewrite for Rise, I ended up applying the same approach to Chara. While she wasn’t the jaded, angry, bitter, and vengeful character that Bunny was, the two did have a lot in common. To be specific, it was the deep seated resentment they held over having lives they didn’t want pushed on them.
In Chara’s case, it was the traditions of her homeland, shoving her towards marriage and child rearing while she was still only sixteen years old. She had a hunger to see the wider world, to experience things life in the tiny village she had grown up in couldn’t offer her. That constant, ever present push for her to become a mother at such a young age led to a deep and abiding anger.
When she met Ramora, she saw a way to experience something new, even if it was just in passing. Small though it was, it was a chance to be more than what her life would currently allow of her, and she clung to it a little too fiercely perhaps.
Chara, as I saw her now, was still naive, but thought herself wise, adding a new layer to the character that gave context to why she wasn’t instantly likable. She was sarcastic, combative over her perceived place, and somewhat resentful of the limits placed upon her. She was a more fully realized character.
Perhaps the most important thing the song offered me, though, was the understanding that while her relationship with both Ramora and Esteban was what helped define her, it was her relationship with Rakiss that was truly important.
Rakiss, for those who haven’t read the book, yet are reading this, is a demigod, an Ascended in service of Heaven. He never acts like it, however, and has as yet undefined goals where Chara is concerned. Goals he is willing to upset the course of fate to see come to fruition.
Chara remains wholly unaware of his presence, as he acts under a cloak of invisibility, manipulating her life, and her very emotions, in service to whatever plan he has. So, how they interact with one another is a bit different from what you might expect. For the most part, he lurks, watching her, and pushing her one way or another as he sees the need.
We learn later on that he has been at this for a very long time, too, which creates a new aspect of Chara’s character. Who is she really? If Rakiss had never manipulated her, who would she even be? This question is more or less central to who Chara became in the final draft.
In the first drafts of the book, my girlfriend would often point out that Chara could be flighty and inconsistent. In the final draft, those characteristics took on a more ominous undertone, as we see Rakiss is responsible for those very things, moving Chara about in service of his grand plan. He would manipulate her emotions, her thoughts, and even encourage her mind to work in new, sometimes frightening ways.
The heart of this story is about Ramora and Chara, but for Chara, the important thing I discovered, was that it was how Rakiss was manipulating her that mattered most. If that sounds skeevy, well, it’s suppose to. Rakiss is pretty skeevy, after all, and his goals are not just questionable, but possibly vile. Playing up the importance of that helped me find a more consistent tone with Chara’s character, and make her much more interesting.
Again, I get how uncomfortable that sounds. Truth is, it should be seen that way. What Rakiss is doing is wrong on every level. As I worked on the final draft, I came to see that it was too important a thing to not bring a lot more attention to. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s because it should.
If it doesn’t, you may have other issues you should look at dealing with, cause it’s skeevy as hell.
That’s a larger conversation I’m sure I’ll have at some future time, though, so for now, let’s just leave it at Rakiss is skeevy.
How can you see into my eyes like open doors
leading you down into my core
where I’ve become so numb without a soul my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
until you find it there and lead it back home
For Chara, this refers to how she sees Ramora. When they meet, Ramora rescues Chara from a Goblin attack, but it is as they grow close, and Ramora helps put an end to the plans being made for Chara’s future as an unwilling wife and mother, that Chara begins to feel as if Ramora sees who she is, or rather, who she wants to be. That this warrior priestess understands her in a way no one else ever has. When they leave together, it feels as if Ramora is leading her out of the dark, giving her life where before, there was only existence.
Now that I know what I’m without
you can’t just leave me
breathe into me and make me real
bring me to life
As their journey brings them into contact with Esteban, and under the manipulations of Rakiss, Chara begins to see Esteban as the thing that gives her life meaning. As if perhaps, now that she fears Ramora would abandon her if it meant getting revenge, she can find a new purpose with this man she’s come to know.
Through both of these points, what Chara is seeking is something that helps her define her own life. She doesn’t know how to do that on her own, and her past efforts were, let’s just say, questionable in their effectiveness. She is lost, and looking for something to hang on to, to give her purpose. I also want to point out that her choices in this, defining herself through another person, is part of how she was raised. While she wants to reject that, she doesn’t know any other way to think. It’s part of her upbringing, and that can be a very hard thing to shake.
All this time I can’t believe I couldn’t see
kept in the dark but you were there in front of me
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems
got to open my eyes to everything
without a thought without a voice without a soul
don’t let me die here
there must be something more
bring me to life
It was in these lyrics that I saw how important Rakiss’s influence over her really was. More than Ramora, more than Esteban, it is Rakiss who actually sees her for what she can be. Only he sees her greater potential, a greater purpose to her life, and he is willing to defy Heaven and Hell alike in order to bring that about. She never knows it, never sees it, but in his own weird, twisted way, it is Rakiss who loves her, and wants to set her free of all the things weighting her down.
Granted, he’s not going about it in a healthy, normal, sane fashion, but from his perspective, that is what he is doing. He honestly believes he is saving her, and giving her the means to define herself that she seeks.
Again, I know that there is a larger conversation that I probably need to have about Rakiss and Chara, as everything he does is pretty unsavory. Again, it is meant to be taken that way, but it is also important to try and see things from his point of view, since that is what affects Chara’s life the most. It is what influences every choice she makes, and everything that happens to her, so it does warrant at least some examination.
I’m not going to say he’s right, because he isn’t. By no means. However, rather than simply write him as a one dimensional villain, I felt it imperative to give some thought to his point of view, and present it to a limited degree. At the very least, it makes him a somewhat more well shaded figure, and does add a great deal of understanding to what is going on with Chara.
She is seeking something that will give her life meaning beyond just doing what is expected of her. Rakiss believes he is giving her that. In that sense, the song works as a double edged sword, defining both their characters in radically different ways.
For Rakiss, it is a journey he believes will give not just Chara, but him, everything they both need.
For Chara, however, it is constant pain, sorrow, loss, regret, and suffering, as she tries to understand why, by the end of the first book, she thinks she wants one thing, while her heart says she wants another. Why she feels lost and alone, as if she is coming undone, frozen inside.
This song helped me find the best way to present Chara, not as a naive, annoying girl, but as a young woman who stands at the crossroads of destiny, unaware of her importance, seeking something that will give her purpose and meaning, unaware that she had both in her own hands all along.
It also helped define Rakiss, a rogue agent of Heaven, as he does the unthinkable, for what he sees as the most noble of reasons.
Yeah, there’s gonna be a really long conversation about that somewhere in my future. Probably with lots of angry people.
Next week, we tackle the Werejaguar from another dimension, and unwitting player in Rakiss’s game, Esteban.