How Rachel Ward Keeps It Real

What if you could know the day you were going to die? And what if you could swap your day of death with someone else?

Rachel Ward’s final book in the Numbers trilogy, Infinity, continues the stories of Sarah, Adam, and Mia. The young family is hiding out to avoid the unwanted attention that has plagued them ever since it was revealed that they have the power to see death dates. Throughout the trilogy, Rachel has developed an intriguing cast of characters who feel very real despite having very fantastical powers. Read how she’s honed her character-development skills and her secret to creating a realistic fantasy novel.

The Numbers trilogy features characters with special powers: Jem and her son Adam can see death dates; Sarah dreams of the future; and Nan can read auras. For these books to work, it’s important to take readers with me, to make them believe the characters’ powers are real. I think the key to this is to make everything else about a character as real as possible and create a context where the fantasy element fits in naturally.

I write in the first person, which helps ground my characters in reality. I think it makes the action more immediate, and as a writer you get to experience the story at the same time as your characters and your readers. Writing like this, I have to inhabit my characters’ skin and understand what makes them tick. I have to understand the big things in their lives that motivate them, whether it’s Adam losing his mother to cancer or Sarah’s desperation to provide her children with the happy, safe family life that she didn’t have. Even if I don’t write about them in any great detail, I have to know about my characters’ backgrounds, their childhoods, and the role that love, or lack of love, has played in their lives. But it’s not just the big things. I also have to know the little things that mark them out as individuals. The way someone twitches. Quirks in speech. Telltale mannerisms like Adam jiggling his leg when he’s anxious, which mirrors his father Spider’s restlessness in the first book, Numbers.

Maybe it’s a cliché, but as a writer you often feel that you are slightly removed from the world—you’re an observer, not a participant. But this observing is crucial to finding the details that make your writing real. You may not realize that you’re doing it at the time, but when you begin to write about a character’s personal traits, I’m pretty sure you will return to these observations and find the things you need to bring your character to life.

Sometimes discovering something very small can be the key to finding the voice for your character. A convincing voice is the foundation for a successful book, whether your characters have special powers or not.

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