Often, when talking about the music that they listen to as they write, authors focus on the songs that hit the high points, the triumphs, the best moments of the story and the characters. It’s little wonder, either, as these are the things the readers are going to remember the most clearly.
However, it’s just as important to talk about the other moments, when the characters fail, are weak, or suffer alone. This is what makes them human, and allows the reader to really be invested, for the heroes are not without failings and flaws.
They are like us. They are only human.
As I was writing War Witch, there was one character who stood out to me as the most human of them all. Ironically, it was the Werejaguar, Esteban. Of the many characters we meet during the first book, Rise, and certainly all those yet to come in future books, Esteban is always the most human of them all.
He has doubts about his place in the world, fears of what may come to pass, worries about things no one can predict, and carries the heaviest of burdens at times, because in the real battles, he is the least capable. It isn’t so much his fear of dying, as it is he knows his lack of skill could get others killed.
While “Human” heavily refers to the burden Esteban carries, it is also more or less the song I turned to when I wanted to capture the weakness of each of the characters. Esteban simply gets it played during his scenes more than the others, because of his frequent bouts of self doubt.
It’s only natural, in many ways, as there is one scene in the book that plays to the lyrics and feel of the song best. The moment when Esteban’s adopted father, Imicot, confessed his sins to Ramora. Just as the man who raised him was plagued with doubt and regret, so to is Esteban, as he finds himself shoved into a war he never wanted to part of.
Possibly the worst part for him is the way all of those around him seem so sure of themselves. He is unable to see the way they are broken, crippled by their own doubts, and no different than him. Just human.
It’s important to remember the weaker parts of a character. Perfect heroes are fun, but they aren’t very realistic, nor are they someone readers can truly invest in. Their success is a foregone conclusion, and as such, never truly earned. So, today, I want to spend some time on the weaker aspects of these characters from War Witch.
I can hold my breath
I can bite my tongue
I could stay awake for days if thats what you want
be your number one
Despite the fact that it was how Rakiss made him feel, this perfectly captures Esteban’s feelings for Chara, just as it captures her feelings for Ramora, and Ramora’s feelings for Chara. Such a sad and tangled web Rakiss has woven, where no one will end up happy. Yet, in a way, this reflects on him as well, as he often literally stays awake for days trying to insure Chara’s heart turns the way he wants.
I can fake a smile
I can force a laugh
I can dance and play the part
if thats what you ask
give you all I am
Mostly, this reflects what Ramora goes through after Rakiss turns Chara to Esteban. For Chara’s sake, Ramora fakes a smile, forces a laugh, and plays the part of the friend, when what she really wants is to hold the one she loves, and never let go.
It also so perfectly encapsulates what Rakiss has done, however. All the smiles, laughter, and love that Chara and Esteban share isn’t real. He’s taken the choice from them, and now, they are left to play the parts he has created.
But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human and I crash and I break down
your words in my head
knives in my heart
you build me up and then I fall apart
cause I’m only human
This refrain was what really did it, though. Starting with Imicot, as he confessed his failure to save the village he had sworn to protect. For all the power he held as a Sorcerer, he was only human, and there are some things no person can fight. He broke down, and fell apart in the face of those things.
Esteban as well we see is only human. Rakiss’ words in his head build him up, but the slow realization that Chara doesn’t love him the way he loves her makes him fall apart.
It is the same for Ramora, who believed, for a time, that she and Chara could be together, only to see her with another, knives in her heart.
Most of all, it reflects Chara, the most uncertain of them all about her true feelings. There is a war within her between what she knows she wants, and what Rakiss has made her believe she wants. Because of this, we see her crash, break down, and fall apart.
Because they are all only human.
Humanity is not just the better parts, it is also the worst parts. The sadness, the pain, the hurt. These things make us human just as much as our better aspects do. Without them, we are less than we should be, and can never be as great as we dream of being. In the lyrics to this elegant, beautiful song, we see our weakness, and how to grow stronger from it.
Next week, the action music, and how it shaped the climactic battle of the novel