One of the key aspects of thoughtful writing is relatability: if you understand your subject matter, your reader is bound to be engaged and to feel informed by what you present them with. On the other hand, patching your story together with assumptions and wild guesses is a surefire way to get your reader feeling like they’re being duped.
So what does that mean for speculative fiction writers? Should we aspire to time travel, receive supernatural powers or foster hidden identities in order to write about these experiences?
That would be an angle! Still, the real world is a far better source for real struggle.
When I started writing “The Missing Spirit”, I looked in the mirror and saw a Latin American male, late 20s, feeling like a complete outsider in his own country after being abroad for years. I had never gone through adolescence as a prehistoric female with a burning desire to defect from an autocratic divine republic – but I could relate to feeling like a foreigner in the place where I grew up.
Besides, how hard could it be to give voice to a young soul desperate to break free? Still, Keana had lived a full life until then, she was an integral part of social circles and of a nuclear family. As it turns out, one of the toughest characters to write ended up being Keana’s mum: Cerina.
In one of the many group reads I held with friends and acquaintances, Cerina appeared to be a character that men could relate to more than women. Moreover, the only mother in the bunch seemed to have a hard time connecting with her. That struck me as curious – and not necessarily in a good light. I realized then this would be a character whose motivations probably lay outside of my comfort zone; parents have a very peculiar mindset when it comes to keeping their children safe, one you can’t simply infer when you’re not a parent yourself.
The solution? Rewriting Cerina’s scenes with different objectives in mind. Factoring in the danger first and the quest second. Cerina’s primary objective could not be helping Keana fulfill her destiny: a mother’s primary objective is keeping their child out of harm’s way. This exercise was helpful in order to reach a tone parents and children could resonate with. When I read the book today, Cerina’s scenes happen to be among my favourites.
So that’s one of the beautiful things about writing fantasy; this ability to shapeshift your perceptions, desires and anguishes about the world that surrounds you. While metaphor is a key ingredient in speculative fiction – and it can be a sneaky way to connect with your readers – it doesn’t do the trick on its own.
At the end of the day, characters need to be relatable. They will be the driving force of your mothership. They’ll be your readers’ tethers to this new world you want to lure them into. Once you can pair your characters up with all the voices you may have bubbling up in your heart, you will be far more likely to keep your reader immersed in your characters’ adventures.