Making your characters REAL

Ink - A Ravindra short story

Ink – A Ravindra short story

Admiral Ashkar Ravindra, one of the main characters in my Morgan Selwood stories, has been variously described by reviewers as brutal, a jerk and an absolutely drool-worthy hunk. And I’m quite happy with all of those descriptions because it means he’s a real, three dimensional individual, not a cardboard cutout. Like all people, he is a product of the society in which he was born and raised. Some will see his characteristics as strengths, others will say they’re weaknesses and some will see downright flaws. Which is how we view politicians, actors and sports stars. Some adore Tom Cruise. Some of us… don’t.

Which brings me to the gentle art of characterisation, or how to make your characters real. It’s absolutely essential to immerse your characters in a real world, even if it is imaginary. They have to behave in ways that make sense within their context. I learned that lesson particularly well when I wrote my historical fiction novel To Die a Dry Death. It is set in 1629, when the Dutch merchantman Batavia was wrecked on arid islands off the coast of Western Australia. One of THE most difficult things for an author to deal with is to put the reader into the shoes of the people living in this distant time. Some reviewers noted how difficult it was to get their twenty-first century brains around the way people behaved. The Netherlands in the seventeenth century was a regimented, structured society where class was everything. The devil, hell, sea monsters and demons were all as real as outlaw motorcycle gangs today. Women were second-class citizens even if they were upper class; objects of desire, mothers of children, doers of housework. Life was cheap. The death of an infant was par for the course. Even much, much later, parents thought nothing of giving a subsequent child the same name as one who had died. Torture and executions were popular spectator sports. All of those social facts had a bearing on the story and how it was written. Much as I would have liked to write that the women (in particular) fought back against their abusers, it just didn’t happen, and, more to the point in a work of fiction, it couldn‘t happen because of their social conditioning.

In a similar way, if we write about a future society, our characters must reflect the social mores we have established. Ashkar Ravindra comes from a highly structured society where genetic engineering has made it impossible for people from the four classes to create offspring with a member of another class. It has been suggested that this structure is unlikely and clumsy, but to that I say look at history. Ravindra’s Manesai culture is heavily based on the Indian caste system. But even if it wasn’t, point a finger at any part of the world and you’ll find classes, castes, restrictions on marriage and the like. In Australian aboriginal society, young women had to marry someone from another clan, as described in the reference to ‘moieties’. 1629 Europe was much the same. The daughters of merchants would marry the sons of other merchants. Princes married princesses. Common serving men didn’t bother lusting after the daughter of the house. Although, in male dominated societies, men in authority thought nothing of having a bit on the side with the wench. And folks, this is still, by and large, true. I have simply taken one small step further in my science fiction and had idealistic genetic scientists make matches between classes childless. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. That’s sure to make for a peaceful society.

Ravindra comes from the Mirka, the military class, which provides Manesai society with its military people and its senior politicians. Since humans are essentially tribal and we love to belong to groups, the Mirka caste has evolved sub-castes and Ravindra is a member of the Darya, an elite group which produces most Manesai admirals. He’s wealthy, owning an estate on his home world, and he’s used to having his own way and being obeyed.


Ravindra is a little bit different. This comes out in Morgan’s Choice, because he’s the admiral sent out to the back blocks of Manesai space to investigate a few strange events. And later in the book we learn he has a tattoo. Mirka, most especially Darya, do not have tattoos. It’s considered common, something a mere trooper would do, not an officer and a gentleman. So I wrote a story, Ink, about how Ravindra acquired that tatt. On the way through, you might learn a little more about Manesai society, and how Ravindra’s behaviour is grounded very much in who he is.

Apart from that, you can just admire the cover. I know I do.


4 thoughts on “Making your characters REAL

  1. Author Charmaine Gordon

    Thanks for this terrific informative post. I’ve learned in the few short years I’ve been a published author, you must have a voice for each character aside from the moment before and a suitable name. Readers have no idea what goes into creating a rich story. They either enjoy the journey or set it aside. Meanwhile, back to my new Mature Romance where I think a moment of passion is about to happen. . .or not. Let’s see what the characters tell me. Greta, thanks again.

  2. mona karel

    Ink did a great job of showing more depth to Ravindra, and also explaining how he could defy his family and genetic conditioning. Lessons learned in the village and on the camping trip made him a more complete person as well as a more in depth character

  3. Diane Nelson

    Love this post/analysis. You are a genius at bringing these characters to life (and, just for the record: hunk).

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