Tag Archives: character

I’ve Got It: My Next Novel Will Feature …

This might be a bad idea from a politically correct point-of-view; I might make myself into a pariah by posting this. But I’m not politically correct. If the truth be told, I can’t stand the whole movement. I get it: if there’s a man standing next to me in a dress, that’s no cause to beat him senseless or publicly ridicule him. But I still think it’s a little weird. And I think I’m within my rights to raise an eyebrow. Sorry.

 

I find it amusing as I hop from ezine to ezine and peruse the wish lists of the respective editors. A whole bunch of them are looking for LGBTQ (or whatever) literature and all sorts of variants on that theme. Basically, the characters in our stories are getting stranger and stranger, more and more removed from “normal” (if there is such a thing–the PC movement denies that there is; I’m not so sure). I suppose that’s natural as a perfectly “normal” character would probably be boring. But it seems to me that it is possible to get lost in the weeds of details, striving to make your character so unique it becomes its own bizarre amalgamation of traits and randomness; a string of characteristics that mock the whole notion of character.

 

So, in light of the vast PC wisdom, and the muse that inspires me, my next novel will feature …

a cis-gendered Hispanic male albino lesbian with a penchant for Cheerios and heavy metal music. His love interest, of course, will be a trans-gendered female weightlifting Sumo wrestler from Alpha Centauri with seven fingers on her right hand and an extra row of teeth; she suffers from psoriasis.

 

I should apologize for that. Maybe I can make it good by claiming they are both hobgoblins. Am I allowed to tease hobgoblins? Or are they off-limits, too?

 

Fantasy Literature: Character Development: A Few Thoughts and Pointers

I’m of the mind that characters are one of the constants of novels. I think it would be impossible to write a novel without having at least one character. If you were to write something without a character, you might be able to pass it off as a poem, perhaps, but certainly not a novel. An essay, maybe, or a dissertation, but not a novel. Also, realistically speaking, I don’t think you’d be able to limit yourself to just one character. You’d probably need at least one more. For what is a novel, but an exploration of human relationships and character development? How could one explore such without a selection of characters to delineate?

 

Since the above is true (or at least I regard it as true), it may be worthwhile to pound out a few thoughts on how novel characters come to be. What kind of effort goes into constructing one?

 

In the first draft of my first book, Drasmyr, I wrote everything stream-of-consciousness, revising as I went along. The characters only existed in my mind. I had a relatively small number, I was much younger with a more energetic brain (I think) so I could keep such things straight. I had no need for character description sheets, or anything of the sort. Nowadays, I’ve changed my approach. It’s kind of an approach-in-progress—because I’m constantly adding new things and tweaking things in a chaotic, disorganized way—but currently, I have notebook filled with character information sheets.

 

What’s in them, you ask? Well, start with the basics. First, you need a general description of the character. Height. Weight. Eye color. Hair color. Muscular? Thin? Etc… Keeping a good physical description in one place is a very good idea (I’m actually learning this the hard way, because I wrote the rough draft of book II before I wrote the character sheets—a silly mistake, but a painful one—but I intended to reread the thing a million times before I published it anyway), that way you can refer back to it whenever you need to and you don’t have to worry about making a mistake describing the character with blue eyes in one place, and brown in another, or what have you. That’s probably one of the simplest ways to save yourself some headaches. So, whenever you are writing and you introduce a new character, do yourself a favor and make up a character information sheet (unless that character is just a walk-on), put it a neatly organized folder for easy access later on.

 

Of course, characters are much more than their physical descriptions. They have personalities with conflicts and hang-ups and what have you. Their outlook on life changes as they progress through the story. All these things must be kept straight in order to tell a good story.

 

So, in order to flesh out the character, I include a section on the character’s history (birthplace, parent’s names, etc…), their clothing preferences (although that is hardly essential), their general personalities, and the crises, evolutions, or aspects of human nature I wish to explore while developing them. If the character is a religious fanatic, I include it here and try to explain why. If they hate goblins, well, what led to that bias? Recording changes in a character is probably the most important aspect of character development, but is also the hardest to convey in a single blog post. Characters evolve and change, they learn new things, they change their minds. That’s what the “development” in character development means.

 

Of course, this is very complicated particularly when there are multiple characters (I suddenly see the wisdom in limiting a novel to one main character—that definitely makes things easier). You have to track the changes and interactions. Generally, I do this on a separate sheet, in outline form only.

 

I’ve found that the easiest approach to character information sheets is to start each character on a fresh piece of paper. If you try to use the same piece of paper for multiple characters, you’re apt to run out of room. I’ve done this. I know. If they are separable, you can alphabetize (for easy reference) and also expand upon previous notes. You don’t have to write a character’s entire background the first time you use him or her, and you can always add additional sheets as you see fit.

 

Okay, I’ve blabbed about characters for quite a bit now. Time to end the post.

Monster Mishmash: A Vampire Dragon

I stumbled upon this concept while traipsing across the Internet the other day. The blogger was talking (here’s the link) about vampires in Magic the Gathering and the like. She mentioned how vampirism, although it affects humans most commonly, can affect other species. She mentioned dragons as one such species. And that just gives me shivers.

 

Why, oh why, would you want to take two things as powerful as a dragon and a vampire, and combine them? I mean, I can’t imagine anything worse to fight short of a deity. I mean, a fire-breathing, spell-using, killing machine, plated with armor and possessing deadly claws and teeth. Then, you add the abilities of a vampire on top of that? A dragon that can only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart? I mean, seriously, how do you stake an armor plated dragon with a shaft of wood? Please, Mr. Dragon, remove the scaly hide that protects your heart so I can drive this flimsy shaft of wood in. Oh, and the dragon can become a cloud of mist; it can polymorph into a variety of forms… look at that tiny little bat. What do you mean, it’s not really a bat? (Of course, in some traditions dragons already have the ability to polymorph, or can even assume gaseous form)

 

I remember in AD&D there were these creatures called Dracoliches, which were a form of undead dragon. And as a lich was pretty much the most powerful undead, a Dracolich was one of the most powerful creatures you could encounter. We fought one or two in our day. Nasty critters. Reminds me of the days when all I ever rolled for saving throws was a 1 or a 2. Anyway, a dragon vampire would be pretty much about the same thing. Maybe not quite as powerful, but I certainly wouldn’t want to face one. In 2nd edition AD&D, vampires drained 2 levels with a touch. Could you imagine fighting a dragon that did that? With multiple attacks? Claw, claw, bite (and wing buffet, wing buffet, tail lash for complete measure). In one round, your 13th level butt-kicking warrior prince is reduced to a first level greenhorn. Next thing you know, you’re a snack.

 

I suppose the balancing factor would be the weaknesses. A dragon that is destroyed by sunlight or running water would have to be very careful. He wouldn’t have to worry about invitations, though. He could just destroy any building he couldn’t enter, so no one could hide in it. And, of course, there’s holy objects. It would be nice to have a powerful high priest around when facing a dragon vampire.

 

But the real mystery of the dragon vampire is: where did the first one come from? A normal vampire couldn’t kill a dragon (well, if you have level draining, maybe), so how did the first one come about? Was it just some crazy wizard doing foolish experiments? That seems the most plausible explanation to me. But you would have to be really crazy, and a little stupid, to dabble in that!

Fantasy Writing: Number of Characters

I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my life. Nowadays, I’ve started making a focused effort to write and publish my own work. One issue that seems to pop up and bear investigation and discussion is the number of major characters in a piece of literature. Many modern fantasy stories have a sizable number of such major characters, so much so, that it is difficult to categorize any single one as the “main character;” in fact, I would argue that in many cases, the notion of a main character is subsiding and being replaced by the notion of  several major characters. Each character provides his or her own point of view and plotline. The author then weaves these all together to form a complete story, switching from one character and one point of view to another, and back and forth throughout, so that the whole resembles a kind of tapestry woven from the various plot threads. If done poorly, this can lead to confusion, or, if there are too many plot threads, this can lead to boredom as the reader fails to become invested in any of the characters. Masters of the craft, though, seem to have a knack for building up tension in each character’s plot thread, and switching point of view in such a way that the reader must continue reading, not only to find out what happens with the one character, but also with the next. Sometimes the plotlines blend for a time, as two or three major characters travel together or what-have-you, then separate. But my question is: is there a maximum number of characters that one can effectively have in a series?

 

I don’t want to give a specific number but I believe there is. The more major characters you add to a story, the more diluted the central plotline becomes. Often when I have read lengthy novels or trilogies, or what-have-you, and get to the end, I look back and am fascinated with how little each character actually accomplished over sometimes thousands of pages. They were driven from their castle, puttered around in a foreign city, then returned home with an army to retake the castle. And that’s all. The reason this happens is because of the number of major characters. Few novels these days tell a single story; instead, there are multiple sub-stories woven together. Obviously, if there are four sub-stories in an 800 page book, then each sub-story usually only gets about 200 pages or so. Clearly, the writer cannot accomplish as much in that shorter length. Hence, as I noted above, the characters are limited in what they can do, too.

 

One of my favorite series is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (now being completed by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death). It is, however, a testament to the problem of having too many major characters. I suppose, theoretically, Rand  Al’Thor as the Dragon Reborn is the main character, but that is only a technicality. All the major characters have consumed a comparable number of pages. And the result is a very LONG series. I think they’re at book fourteen, now. Hopefully, Brandon Sanderson will be able to finish it. But let’s just go through a list of the major characters (and this is just off the top of my head): Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Min, Aviendha… all right, that’s eight; I was expecting more, so maybe it’s not too bad. Except most of those demand equal or near equal time in the books. Is there any wonder why the series is so long? I enjoy the series. I really do. But because of the number of plotlines and major characters the series is so long that I’ll never sit down and read the entire bloody thing again. Which is a shame, because parts of it were really good. Well, the whole series was good. It’s just too much of a colossus to embark on again.

 

And that, I think, is a danger one risks when one writes. Characters have a tendency to multiply as you go along. The disciplined writer must learn to rein in his tendency to keep adding character upon character, and plotline upon plotline, or the end result might just be a literary mess.

Fantasy Literature: Are We Running Out of Names?

I recently published a vampire/fantasy novel entitled “Drasmyr” (see publications, if interested).  One of the characters in the novel, admittedly a minor one, is a female sorceress named Jacindra. A week or two ago, I stumbled across a blog where the writer was talking about her own character named Jacinda. They differ by a single letter. Is it just coincidence? Or are we, as fantasy writers, running out of original names?

 

What’s in a name? A few letters, a vowel or two? It is common practice for characters in fantasy literature to have unusual names; with few exceptions, they are not names one would find in the real world. Gralk, for example, is a perfectly good fantasy name… to me it conjures up images of a hideous orc, or troll character. Bob the Swordsman, though? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be caught dead writing a story about Bob the Swordsman and Joe the Wizard. They just don’t have that fantastical allure. Simean, though. That could work. Often I’ll take a common real world name (in this case, Simon) and alter it by a letter or two to create a new fantasy name. Then there is the technique of mashing letters together, sprinkling a few vowels here and there, and Whallah! A new name.

 

But there are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, plus an apostrophe and a dash. If you figure names range from four letters to twelve letters in length, that gives you an exceptionally large pool of combinations to work with, but it is finite. And some of them, just would not work: who’s going to use the name Xmlytekc? And if you look at the number of writers there are, that number is constantly growing. The indie book publishing site Smashwords serves the needs of some 20,000 plus writers. And there are plenty of others spread throughout the Internet. I don’t know how many of these are fantasy writers, let’s just say 1000. All those writers need names for their characters. Redundancy of names across writers is inevitable. And so we run into situations like Jacindra and Jacinda above. I wrote the rough draft of my vampire novel in 1995. I gave the head vampire the name of Lucian. I thought it was a cool name for a vampire character. But, lo and behold, a few years later the movie Underworld comes out. The head werewolf’s name is Lucian. Well, I’m not changing my head vampire’s name. So, too bad.

 

Perhaps, one would argue that this isn’t really important. Names are just names. It doesn’t matter who names which character what first. There is room for redundancy. But is that true? Do you expect anyone to give the name “Frodo” to a character in any other book than the Lord of the Rings? A really good book with a cool name or two, will stake a claim on that name for perpetuity. There will never again be another “Frodo” or “Aragorn.” Names are, in a way, a commodity, almost in a way analogous to land. With so many writers, there is a mad rush for cool character names. Who will get there first?