Have you ever been asked to do a character analysis in English class as a student? I don’t remember much from the ones I did, but I do enjoy the concept. Obviously, not every character ever written is worthy of the bother, but every once in a while you get one you could spend hours on the couch with (in psychoanalysis…). You think you know them, but the more you look, the deeper you see. Part of why I love reading, re-reading, and writing is that all three allow you to revisit a certain situation, a certain place and time, a certain sentence spoken, and look beneath the surface in a way you can’t do in real life. Nuance and subtlety are the most irresistible lure for any hardcore bookworm. Yes, we enjoy action and passion, and witty dialogue, but what really keeps us coming back isn’t the obvious, it’s the things you have to dig for, think about, and chew on.
Why would you do that to a person??
Not too long ago, I was confronted with a reader’s question that gave me pause. The question was about Aiden and a certain thing that happens to him about halfway through the book. My answer was going to be simple and to the point: it was a test for him and another character, and their arcs hinged upon how they responded to it. But I paused because as I was typing this answer out, my mind veered off to a place I hadn’t gone before, even while writing this book, and it completely changed what I wanted to say. That place was Aiden’s past.
“Why would you do that to a person?” they asked.
Here’s my answer:
Because he’s not a person. At the pivotal moment of this event, Aiden wasn’t a person in his own right. He was the Alpha of his pack. He was their protector, caretaker, leader, the patriarch of a society who looked to him first and who depended on him for their survival. He had endured everything along with them, but unlike them, he hadn’t been afforded the luxury of weakness. You can’t let yourself fall apart when you’re the thing keeping everyone else in one piece. All that pain, anger, fear, despair… everything had to be buried and shut off for the good of the pack. And he did it. He kept it together, built up the pack, made sure they were safe, healthy, provided for, and he never showed a hint of weakness. He focused so hard on everyone else that he buried any selfish need so deep it never had a chance to surface, but it was still there.
Aiden, the comic relief in a world of horror, was a mask he’d gotten so used to he never took it off anymore; didn’t even realize he finally could. His entire self was a bad break that had never been properly set. It had healed, it was functional, but it wasn’t natural. It was hurting him, even though he would never admit it.
The only way to fix him was to re-break him, set him properly, and allow him time to heal the right way. The problem is, how do you break someone that tough? I thought putting him in a small dark cell would do the trick. Given enough time for self-reflection, I thought he’d acknowledge what happened and somehow have a moment of wretched epiphany. Instead the bastard started singing. Figures… My only other option was to inflict on him a pain so terrible, so intimate and invasive, that he wouldn’t be able to escape it–or himself–by retreating to his other responsibilities. What finally broke him wasn’t the pain, it was the fact that it happened to him, and he couldn’t stop it. It was so bad it eclipsed even the torture he’d endured as a child, because not even the humans who’d created him had ever crossed that particular line. And it happened to him. Not to the pack, not to his brother, or anyone else under his protection, but him.
Had it been anyone else, Aiden would have kept his cool. He’d have retained his logic and his control. But they didn’t do it to someone else, they did it to him, and in the process made him confront his own weakness and rendered him utterly vulnerable, a concept difficult to come to grips with for any Wolfen, but especially an alpha–the Alpha. Now it was personal. For the first time in his life, Aiden had an open playing field, a target, and carte blanche to do anything he wanted. That was the moment Aiden the man was truly born. That was when he became what he’d always been meant to become, when he finally reached his latent potential as a Wolfen male, and when Desiree began to think of him and refer to him as Aiden, rather than Alpha seven. By breaking apart, he became whole.
Now here’s the part that I love the most: by coming into his own, he made himself fallible. Aiden screws up left and right through the rest of the book, puts others in danger, hurts their feelings, says the wrong things, does the wrong things, loses control over people who’d never questioned him before. But all of that just it makes him even more approachable and lovable. No one holds his failures against him; they embrace them eagerly. Because his failings allow others to step up out of his shadow and shine on their own. 🙂