Notes on Conrad
Conrad, of all the characters in Shining Shira, gave me the most trouble.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love him or appreciate him. I just didn’t know how to write a man.
Over the five drafts I wrote, he and Kaelo are the two characters who changed most. Kaelo became more multidimensional and received a back story, but he remained the villain. Conrad, however, started as a relatively flat, uninteresting attempt at a love interest. When I started writing him (when I was thirteen), he thought, acted, and did things that seemed appealing to a relatively naïve thirteen-year-old girl. I started reading sections of Shining Shira aloud to my mom on car drives (I was sixteen at that point, less naïve but still relatively clueless when it came to boys), and I was voicing my concerns about his character flaws. Finally, she stopped me.
“Well,” Mom said. “Conrad is your hero, right?”
I mumbled something along the lines of “yeah.”
“Then he needs to act like one!”
This offended me, and I made that relatively clear. She shook her head at me and continued.
“Char,” she said, “you’re writing a guy you would be attracted to. You need to write someone who’s more of a soldier. More of a bad***. You know Tom Cruise’s character, in all the Mission: Impossible movies? Why do you like him?”
“His crazy stunts?”
That got me a huff.
“Because he’s fighting for something,” she said.
“Conrad’s fighting for Shira.”
“Sort of, but he needs more than just something to fight for. He needs to have a character. You have to let him be brave.”
Even though I fought it, I knew she was right. (Fun fact: moms almost always are.) Conrad wasn’t brave. He was smart, he was scarred, and he was compassionate, but he wasn’t brave. He wasn’t a hero. And, frankly, Shira deserved someone better than first-draft Conrad.
Flash forward five drafts later, and Conrad was transformed. After a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (the blood and sweat his, the tears mine), he became the Conrad de Solis he is now. He is serious but able to be amused or irritated. He is handsome but scarred. He is a good older brother but sometimes careless as a son. He has preconceived notions and is startled when they are broken. This is not to say Conrad is perfect; I am the first to admit he is flawed. But I am proud of him, and I am proud of my sixteen-year-old self who let him exist. From all the lessons I’ve learned about Conrad, here is the most important one: let your characters, whomever they may be, be themselves fully. Don’t force them to conform to the kind of people you want them to be. Sometimes, and rather often, they have voices and will make their hopes and dreams clear. Sometimes, you just have to be brave enough to let them be.
Are there characters you have struggled writing?