A competent character is something I like to see when I read a book. The character’s going to face some high stakes issues, and he can’t afford to be a pinball bouncing from crisis to crisis, not knowing what he’s doing. Maybe this comes out of me being in the Army. There, they train soldiers a lot so if they run into trouble they have a chance of coming up with a way out of it.
That’s been my approach with creating my main character, Keymas, for Miasma. When I first started the book, I was having a hard time with getting subplots into the book, so I kept trying to insert different ones. An early one, which I jettisoned quickly, involved him coming into his magic recently (3 years ago) and not knowing really how to use it. He was trying to find someone to teach him without revealing that he had gotten this magic to someone else. Considering what was going to happen in the story, this subplot attempt made him look like he didn’t know what he was doing, and that was far from the character I was creating.
A competent character doesn’t have to know everything, but he should be competent in what he does know so that he can deal with the unexpected. So my approach has been to make most of his problems external — he’s limited in his knowledge because the records that would have contained information were destroyed in a war. But, because he is competent, he knows more than anyone else because he’s taken the time to learn. He knows if he doesn’t, it’s going to get him killed. It puts a very different spin on the story.