For those who know, or don’t know, my first novel, Consequence, is now available in eBook and Paperback through Amazon. Of course, it’s been a novel several years in the making, and some supporters had purchased the original release in 2016 (if this is you, drop me a mail and I’ll send you the updated download link).
So anyway, I’d decided to tell readers a bit more about Samantha, the protagonist of my story—how she came about and how I’d come to view her in the years that I’ve mulled her over in my mind.
Samantha: the flawed heroine
When I’d started writing my novel, the idea had been to create a character who is strong, but for whom the audience would feel empathy. In a sense I think I have succeeded in this, but the more I wrote her and edited her, the more she started to infuriate me. At one point I’d consider rewriting her character altogether, but then I realised it would be foolish.
You see, too often have I read books where characters who’d gone through trauma seem to just get it together and end up remarkable victors in the narrative. They become these well-adapted members of society during the narrative through the introduction of an exceptional epiphany.
When writing Samantha, however, I’d wondered how someone who had gone through such unique and devastating trauma would truly be like and what this person would think and feel, and in the end, I believe that Samantha is—to a certain extent—representative of such individuals. She is a traumatised and flawed character.
As readers will notice throughout the text, she is constantly caught in her mind and in her analysis of herself and the world around her to the point where it not only irritates her, but it irritates the reader. Moreover, her observations aren’t always appropriate or factual and are even contradictory at times. She makes decisions and seems resolute, but then she turns around and acts or does the opposite of what she herself had determined to do or believe to be in her nature. Through representing her in such a disruptive manner, I feel that I draw the reader into her mental world which is not a comfortable place to be, but that it is honest. It is filled with doubt and repetition and necessarily alienating.
Her supposed heroism is a result of the contradictions within her character: she is a child trapped in a woman’s body and yet simultaneously she has seen and experienced things which had expedited her maturity—she is both too young and too old in her emotional journey and this makes her act both bravely and unreasonably. Her responses to romance and threat are at times instinctual, at times childish and at others ruled by a convoluted decision-making process riddled with guilt and a sense of responsibility.
I think back on one of the last quotes in my book by Jessica Stern from her book Denial: A Memoir
“Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards.”
That is what I believe Sam’s physical and mental life is like. It is filled with stops, starts and false-starts. It is fragmented. I believe there are ways in which I could have represented her as someone who is more endearing to her audience, but then, isn’t this exactly where most writers fail? In the real world people who are traumatised, suffer from mental health issues or other similar disorders do not blend well into any particular environment. They are constantly out of place in the world, even in their own minds.
Her brief spell in a different location (I’m trying not to give too many spoilers) is also something which I’d considered deleting at one point, but which fits into this fragmented and disparate character of hers. It is not realistic to believe that a normal character would necessarily do this and it seems implausible—but is this not exactly how individuals on the fringes of society are? Is this not why they are on the fringes of society. Would someone who is so fragmented not waste time doing things you thought they ought not be doing?
So Samantha is a character who, at times, manages to breeze through difficult triggering situations, and at others she is completely naive or fixates on non-issues. It is a character whom I, as writer, find irksome and pitiful at times, and this is exactly what she is supposed to be.
Gordon: to love a monster
Gordon, on the other hand, had been a character whom I’d originally intended to be wholly deplorable. His actions are, without a doubt, sickening and heinous.
And yet, as with Samantha I’d considered how to write a character who represented a different perspective on trauma and fragmentation. The more I wrote and edited Gordon, the more I’d endeared myself to him. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that I find any justification for his actions, but in writing about the human condition I felt I’d succeeded in representing both Gordon and Samantha as consequences of the world’s actions (including their own). They are products of both circumstance and choice, and the reader is made to question how they themselves would “choose” given the circumstances that these two find themselves in.
The setting of the novel is, of course, in South Africa—a country which has seen tremendous trauma and yet has chosen to also seek forgiveness and redemption for those who had wronged. It is a country which believes in grey areas. This was so perfectly illuminated during the Truth and Reconciliation commission where perpetrators and victims were encouraged to tell their stories and describe the circumstances which had prompted their choices and actions.
It is this grey area within which the characters operate in my book.
Of course, it is not my intention to sway the reader towards any conclusion. I do not wish to make the decision as to the extent and nature of the empathy or culpability you yourself dish out to the characters. Instead, I wanted to simply represent my characters as authentic and real as they seem to me.