ImageChinese actress Zhang Xin-Yu

 

It’s been very quiet on the blogging front over the last month, even though I actually have several blog posts written and ready to be posted; I’m just waiting for the right time to post them. In the meantime, I’ve decided to kick-start things again with a post about Kayden Jayta, who is (for those of you who don’t know) the central character of my novel The Exercise Of Vital Powers. It’s an opportunity for me to provide some insights, not just into the character, but my reasons for making certain creative decisions about her and her story.

When I began writing the first draft of the story, it dawned on me (before I even completed the opening chapter) that Kayden was going to be a protagonist many readers would find difficult to root for. I would hesitate to declare her an unlikeable character but I readily accept there will be readers who won’t like her much, or at all.

The question now arises, why would I create a protagonist who potential readers won’t like? Well, it wasn’t necessarily a conscious, deliberate decision on my part to create an unlikeable character; things just developed this way as I was writing the novel. Before I could begin writing my story in earnest I had to think a lot about who Kayden was before the start of the events of the story I wanted to tell. Knowing her backstory inside out would not only make it easy for me to understand her character, it would also allow me to know how she would behave and react to situations and people without having to really think about it.

Once I had come up with a detailed backstory for Kayden, all I needed to do then was determine the ways in which her experiences before The Exercise Of Vital Powers had shaped her, in terms of her personality and mindset. Without going into spoiler territory, much of the seven years leading up to the start of the book was a negative time for Kayden; consequently, her history has had a negative impact on the kind of person she is in the story.

Anyone who decides to read my novel will encounter a character who is abrasive and prickly; someone who is frequently snarky and rude; someone who often lacks consideration for others; someone who is manipulative, and all too often acts without regard for the consequences. I wouldn’t want to label her an anti-heroine as that was never really my intent, but given what a resentful and angry person she is, her more virtuous traits will likely go unnoticed and unappreciated.

Although it should probably go without saying that I don’t want prospective readers to hate Kayden, it was, nonetheless, a deliberate choice on my part to ensure she was an unsympathetic character for the first half of the story. It was for this reason that I reveal very little of the backstory I created for the character. The only thing I allow readers to be privy to in detail is one particular event from Kayden’s past that is pivotal to her motivations, as well as the overall plot. This reveal is deliberately timed at the point in the story where I wanted to gradually alter reader perception of the character, making her a little more sympathetic, and easier to warm to.

In a lot of ways Kayden was a risky character to employ as my protagonist. For the duration of of writing The Exercise Of Vital Powers I was convinced that how she was received by future readers would ultimately determine how much (or even if) they would enjoy the story. In the six months since publication I’m not entirely sure how true this has proved to be, though I still maintain that this is the case. While the response to the novel so far has been overwhelmingly positive, there hasn’t been consensus about Kayden.

From the feedback I’ve received so far, reader reaction to Kayden seems to be split three ways: There is the minority who really liked her, principally because she is not an atypical female fantasy protagonist; then there are those who found her very unlikeable, but enjoyed the story in spite of her, rather than because of her, (Kristen described her as a “turbo bitch” in her review, which made me laugh); and finally there are those who felt conflicted about how they should feel towards Kayden.

Part of me is actually happy that attitudes towards the character has been mixed thus far. This is pretty much what I was hoping for―an ambiguous character who is difficult to pigeon hole as this or that. I definitely enjoyed writing the character, and will continue to do so for a little while longer.

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If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to acquaint yourself with Kayden, now is the time to rectify that. The ebook edition of The Exercise Of Vital Powers is currently on sale for 99p/99c from Amazon (UK and US marketplaces only.)

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Thanks for reading,
Ian