When devising challenges for my heroes to face, I like to choose those that will interact interestingly with the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. I want to display the things they’re good at to make for cool, clever moments, and challenge the things they’re bad at so as to maximize the drama. Mrs. Hawking in particular is an interesting combination of remarkable talents and glaring flaws that I want to affect the way she maneuvers in the stories.
As I see it, Mrs. Hawking’s strengths tend to fall into these general categories.
Combat. She is a truly dangerous warrior when it comes down to it. She is trained in a number of martial arts styles, mostly Asian ones, learned during her time living in the colonies. Her preferred weapon is the knife, both as a melee and a thrown weapon. She is extremely strong for her size, about five-foot-two in height and a hundred and fifteen pounds of pure lean, ropy muscle. Her pain tolerance is high, but because she is small she relies very much on speed and agility and her ability to dodge blows.
Infiltration. She is an experienced cat burglar and second story woman. She has been a skilled climber with excellent balance since she was a child. She is flexible in the extreme and can fit through very tiny spaces. She can pick locks and even pockets. She know how to remain completely silent and out of sight. This is perhaps her most honed and elevated skill set; there are more dangerous fighters or more astute detectives, but her stealth abilities are second to none.
Detection. Her keen senses and extreme intelligence have lent themselves well to developing an eye toward evaluating evidence and determining implications. While not on the level of a Sherlock Holmes, she is skilled at noticing small relevant details that may provide clues. When her attention is focused, she at times can absorb memories eidetically.
Tactics. Mrs. Hawking is skilled at masterminding plots to tackle problems. Her keenly analytical mind excels at evaluating challenges and devising creative, unexpected solutions to solve them. She makes a point of always attempting to think several moves ahead. She knows how to evaluate risk, utilize the circumstances and setting around her, and see her plans through to execution.
So she is a warrior, a spy, a detective, and a tactician. But she is not omnicompetent, and those gaps in her expertise are important, as they provide her with challenges and necessitate the help of the members of her team.
And so, her weaknesses.
Deception. Mrs. Hawking is not an actor. While capable of telling lies coolly and concealing truths, she cannot put on any façade more complicated than simply blanking her true feelings. She has no ability to chatter with or charm anyone. As Bare Bones actor Brad Smith once said, “She has no Bruce Wayne.” She can hold her tongue and project neutrality, but she cannot pretend that she is any person other than who she is.
Reading others. She often has difficulty evaluating people’s feelings and motives because she does not always relate to them. Her personal standards and judgmental harshness often make her less empathetic. It also leads to incorrect assessments of situations, which in turn can lead her to making the wrong move in response.
Leadership. She has become so accustomed to working alone that she is not good at acting as a leader and manager of other people. She has little idea how to teach or inspire those who look to her for guidance. This also means she doesn’t always know how to utilize the talents of her team members to maximum effect. Her issues trusting others also mean that she has difficulty relying on anyone other than herself.
Pride. Her personal preferences and baggage affect her work more than she thinks. She often chooses the path that she finds most comfortable to her preferences or vanity rather than truly the most efficient or sensible one. She would rather take an elaborate covert action if it means she can avoid talking to people, she makes choices to validate her worldview, and she dislikes admitting that someone else might know how to handle something better than she does.
I think those things make for an interesting combination. Those are the major things she uses or deals with in her work, but there’s a handful of smaller details as well. Among the miscellany:
In the manner of many highly dynamic and productive people, she rarely requires more than five hours of sleep a night.
She speaks a smattering of a number of different languages, but isn’t fluent in any of them.
She studied ballet seriously in her youth. She is partially self-taught, only intermittently tutored by anyone knowledgeable, and her style displayed some talent and a wild enthusiasm but a slight lack of precision. She has not attempted any ballet in many years.
She is very experienced in needlepoint and embroidery. Though she takes no enjoyment from it, she was obliged to spend a great deal of time on it in her youth, and practices it when working out a knotty thought problem because it helps her think.
Next I’ll have to break down Mary and Nathaniel in the same way. :-)