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Erica Cameron | Characters: Building Them Up and Breaking Them Down

November 1, 2019

I love worldbuilding. It’s fun, the best kind of neverending logic puzzle, and it’s easy for me to spend days or months layering details onto a burgeoning universe. Nobody wants to read what amounts to a history book about a fictional world, though. No matter how intricate and interesting the worldbuilding is, it’s the people who populate it who are going to be the tethers that pull readers across a landscape.

I’m not one of those authors who knows everything about a character down to their blood type before I put words on pages. In fact, often the non-physical truths (i.e. things other than height, age, eye color, etc) I know about a character when I start writing can be listed on one hand. I treat characters like strangers I’m meeting for the first time, and I write partially to unveil the core of an individual.

For me, worldbuilding is layering up. Building characters, though, is more a process of stripping down.

Everyone has a core of principles, beliefs, motivations, and needs. Sometimes (okay, rarely) these are all in easy alignment and sometimes they’re diametrically opposed, but no matter what, the core of a person is what drives everything they think and do. The discord between someone’s principles, beliefs, motivations, and needs, though, are what create the most compelling characters to follow, and it’s the source of this discord that I’m looking for when I first begin crafting a character.

In PAX NOVIS, we follow Cira and Riston. Cira is born into the protected, insular Pax society, and while she doesn’t have the privilege of immense wealth, she has always known a guaranteed degree of safety, something rarer and more precious than money in a galaxy at war. Cira believes deeply in the core of her fleets mission: to help those who have lost everything to war. Her principles won’t allow her to turn away from someone in desperate need if there’s something she can do to help. She’s motivated by these beliefs and principles to take action and help whenever possible, and that’s where the conflict comes in, because what Cira needs is to keep her family safe. Every time she breaks fleet charter and galactic law by bringing one of her foundlings on board as a stowaway, though, she’s putting her entire family and crew in immense risk.

Born planetside, Riston had the comfort of middle-class city life and the love of a large extended family, but none of Cira’s guaranteed safety. Everything ze knew was destroyed by a fleet of bombers when ze was a child. These early experiences ensured that ze believes everything will be taken away from zem eventually, and the universe hasn’t proven zem wrong yet. Partially because of this, zir principles align far closer with the rule of what’s right and what will protect the forgotten members of society rather than what any specific legal code decrees should be done. Ze doesn’t like to admit it, but a lot of zir motivation stems from fears, specifically the fear that today could be the day everything ze knows vanishes in a cloud of smoke and ash. Most importantly, though, Riston needs to know that when the end comes, ze did absolutely everything within zir power to protect those closest to zem.

The cores of these characters didn’t come all at once. As I built the world and moved Cira and Riston through it, their reactions to each moment were shaped by their pasts and helped me understand the core of who each of them was. From there, I could easily use that knowledge to challenge them to face their worst fears, make them choose between impossible options, and force them to reevaluate themselves the same way people in the real world have to when circumstances get tough. Those choices and challenges will change them, but that means it will give me new ways to test them and new corners to back them into, and that’s a very good thing.

There are two more books to follow them through, after all.

PAX NOVIS by Erica Cameron

The Pax Archives #1

Pax Novis

Cira Antares is deeply loyal to two things: Pax Novis–the cargo ship captained by her mother that transports supplies across war-torn star systems–and her personal mission to save war orphans. But hiding them as stowaways on the ship is illegal, and if any of them were found, not even her mother could protect Cira from the consequences.

She has successfully kept her secret. . . until supplies start to go missing. Food. Clothing. Tools. All signs point to her stowaways, but they wouldn’t do anything to risk exposing themselves–or her. Especially not Riston, the oldest of the group and someone Cira has grown close to. Someone she might even be falling in love with. . .

And petty thefts are only the beginning–whole ships are disappearing now.

Not caught in a firefight. Not destroyed by another planet. Vanishing. Without a trace.

And Pax Novis is next.

Young Adult Science Fiction [Entangled: Teen, On Sale: November 4, 2019, e-Book, / ]

About Erica Cameron

Erica Cameron

After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years studying psychology and creative writing, basically getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Now, she’s the author of several series for young adults including The Ryogan Chronicles, the Assassins duology, and the Pax Novis trilogy. She’s also a reader, asexuality advocate, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse who loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.

The Ryogan Chronicles | Assassins


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