Sean Baggaley
Sean Baggaley asked Karen Traviss:

You've said in the past that your characters' behaviour sometimes surprises even you. This suggests that your subconscious is also involved in your story-crafting process. Would you agree?

Karen Traviss It's extrapolation based on a big database. I'm a journo by background, and as a breed we're very good at predicting behaviour. Basically, you're a professional people-watcher, and over the years you amass a huge amount of information – some consciously, some not – about personality types and what they're likely to do in a given situation. I used to have to consciously work through that process for fiction and build characters on paper, but by the time I started writing novels it was second nature, really just something I could shut my eyes and stream out without conscious thought. In other words, I could get into that particular mindset and think like that kind of person. (A skill much used in PR and politics, remember – I've had quite a few decades of this to draw on.) I start with a broad personality type or – in the case of characters I've inherited but had to re-invent or develop – take three key events from their lives and feed it into the mental programme to see what comes out. By the time it's that automatic, you let your background processing run without even thinking about it, so you write a scene and character X does something that, naturally, makes perfect sense to character X but shocks you senseless like some Victorian aunt.

There's no mystery or art to it. It's just extreme observation kept on file in my brain and applied logically. We humans love to think we're all unique little snowflakes, but we're mostly hard-wired even when we think we're making conscious decisions and we fall into fairly broad groups, so the small detail of our reactions to the environment we're exposed to does the rest.

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