Authors Through the Eyes of Their Characters

3D book cover for Dream Reaper by Alistair Cross: The cover is a pale man wearing a black top hat with smoke billowing from his mouth.

So often, we authors come to think of our characters as real people and, as neurotic as it may seem to others, there’s good reason for it. Over the course of writing a novel, we spend a great deal of time with our fictional friends, probing so deeply into their minds, their lives, and the worlds they live in that if they were real, they would undoubtedly have restraining orders against us. Seriously. As authors, even if it never makes it to the printed page, it’s our job to know all about our characters’ childhoods, their most crippling fears, their highest hopes, and, of course, all of their dirty little secrets.

We ask our characters questions, prompting them, putting them into dangerous and even ridiculous circumstances in order to find out more about them. Eventually, we know them inside and out and oftentimes, we’re surprised by what we learn. It is, indeed, a process which is almost as grueling as it is fascinating. But it’s worth it – for there’s a reason we do it: When it comes to writing a good book, the characters are the most important ingredients; if a novel is a body then the characters are its heart.

But for all the hyperfocusing we do on our characters, I wonder if anyone else has stopped to ask themselves: But what do my characters think of me? If they were real people, would they like me? Would they hate me? How would they describe their working relationship with me? Would they give me a good reference – a letter of recommendation – or would they report me to the Better Fictional-Business Bureau of Literary Investigations warning away other prospective fictional characters looking for their big break in the starring role of my next novel?

In that vein, there’s a lot of material out there about how we develop our characters, how we bond with our characters, and how we feel about our characters, but rather than rehash all of that, I’d like to take this opportunity to explore how my characters might feel about me, their author. And the timing is perfect because my latest novel, Dream Reaper (slated for a late January release) is fresh on my mind.

First things first, Dream Reaper is a dark fantasy novel about an angel on a mission to save a woman’s life. He ends up with amnesia after crash-landing to earth during a severe storm, and as he clumsily tries to uncover his lost identity, his latent supernatural powers begin tipping the natural balance, drawing the attention of dark entities who want to harvest his soul … and wreak plenty of havoc among the townspeople while they’re at it.

There are a lot of characters in this book and I loved them all – even the nasty ones – but I’m not so sure they’d say the same of me. I guess it would depend on which character you asked. Unfortunately, none of them are available for comment at this time (some are on the road doing various publicity work, soaking up the spotlight and milking their modest fame for all its worth; others have opted for a long vacation to recuperate from the stresses of working on the set of such a taxing novel; and of course, some of them are dead. Because I killed them. Because it needed to be done. But the point is that they’re not here now and therefore, please note that my thoughts below are opinions based on my own impressions of the characters and do not necessarily reflect said characters’ actual positions.

I suppose I ought to start with Alejandro, the angel in question, since he’s technically the star of the novel (no doubt he’s out there somewhere right now, still bragging about making it onto the book cover.) Anyway … Poor Alejandro. I imagine he isn’t very happy with me. After all, I made him fall from the sky, suffer an injury, and lose his memory. Then I had the nerve to put him in imminent mortal danger because, hey … a good story needs some tension. That said, Alejandro is probably not a big fan of mine and could very well be badmouthing me at this very moment. In which case I’d like to remind him that I did make him very handsome, and I think that should count for something.

Madison O’Riley, the young woman that Alejandro plummeted to earth to save, probably has mixed feelings about me. It seemed like every time she started putting the pieces of her world together, I found a way to make her start over. Many times during the writing of this novel I got the distinct impression that she didn’t quite trust me – but in my defense, I never told her this would be an easy gig. In the end, I hope she was able to look back and say it was worth it.

Nick Grayson and I have a bit of history together, so I’m pretty sure he likes me. Nick made his first appearance (as a deputy) in my novel The Crimson Corset, and we hit it off so well that I gave him a promotion to chief of police in a whole new town, and offered him a central role in the new book (Dream Reaper.) I’m assuming he likes me because if he didn’t I don’t know why he’d agree to work with me again (it certainly wasn’t for the money.) And I won’t lie. I put poor Nick through some pretty rough stuff, but if the postcards he’s recently sent are any indication, I’d say he’s forgiven and forgotten. He’s pretty cool like that.

Beverly Simon, a psychic who plays a pivotal role in opening the otherworldly floodgates and bringing this novel to a satisfactory close, doesn’t seem to have anything bad to say about anyone. Still, I’m pretty sure I caught her giving me the stink-eye a few times when I thrust those terrifying psychic visions on her, forcing her to endure the horrors of what was to come. I also think she was a little miffed that I took an interest in her abusive ex-husband, Trevor Keece, and am considering giving him a larger part in another novel (Trevor’s role in Dream Reaper was reduced to mere mentions as it seemed a conflict of interest to put him in the same book as his ex-wife.) I really wanted to put him on-stage though, and I hope Beverly appreciates what I did for her by keeping him off-screen.

Gremory Jones, also known as the Dream Reaper, is a hard one to peg. As the story’s main antagonist, it was difficult to tell if he’s really as creepy as he seems, or if it was just part of the role. We didn’t speak much during production – often, he just kind of glared at me and gave me that strange, vacant smile – but he never tried to sell me anything from his shiny black briefcase, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Regardless of how Mr. Jones may feel about me, I have to admit that this devilishly dapper dude intrigued the hell out of me. He was nothing if not a professional, showing up on time every day, dressed to the nines, and straight away, I wanted to know more about him. About halfway through Dream Reaper, I worked up the nerve to approach him and ask if he’d be interested in a role in my next book (which may become a series centered on him, but I haven’t told him that yet. I don’t want him to get too excited – we all know how fickle the book business is.) Anyway, after I broached the subject, he just looked at me with those dead empty eyes, tapped his cigarette, and said, “I’d be charmed.” So I’m choosing to take that as a sign he likes me. That, or he’s planning to kill me. Like I said, it’s hard to say.

Ah, Clint Horace. I can say with certainty that this gangly, hot-tempered desk sergeant (and bona fide stalker) does not like me. I’m confident of this not only because he doesn’t like anyone but because I’m still receiving threatening letters from him saying he’s prepared to take “aggressive legal action” – or, as he might say, “urggreshive wegal ack-shun” if I go forward with my plans to release this book. From the beginning, Clint made it no secret that he felt I had portrayed him in an unflattering – if not downright unlikable – light. But them’s the breaks, Clint. As I told you a thousand times during production, “There’s no vanity in dark fiction, Clint,” and, “But you’re not the hero of the story, Clint.” We’ll see if he makes good on his threats to sue me when the book is released, but one thing is sure: Clint Horace absolutely hates me.

Electricians Shawn Barzetti and Bobby Beckstead are totally cool and I’m certain they think I’m pretty cool, too. Always eager to get the job done while having a good time doing it, these guys rolled with the punches like champs, never batting an eye at the dangerous – and oftentimes, ridiculous – antics their roles required. I don’t think I heard either of them complain once – even when I told them how they’d be using their knowledge of electricity, which was – let’s face it – pretty tasteless. And painful. Poor Shawn and Bobby. But despite all the drama, yeah … I think we’re cool.

I could go on – this book has a pretty broad cast of diverse personalities – but for the sake of your time and mine, I’d better wrap this bad boy up and, in closing, say that it’s probably a good thing fictional characters aren’t real people. And am I right about what my characters think of me? Your guess is as good as mine. My advice is to read Dream Reaper and get to know them.