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Category Archives: Character Building
I love conflict. Now that might sound a trifle confrontational (and all of you that know me know that is one thing I am NOT). It also might sound completely bizarre. But read any book and there is always a conflict in one way or another. Any TV show has conflict, any film. Most songs are built from some form of conflict. If there is not conflict in a story, then there is no story. What’s interesting about “once upon a time there lived a girl who had a lovely family, and when she was older, she met a lovely man and they got married and had a lovely family of their own”? Now, if it was “once upon a time there lived a girl who had a horrible family” or the girl met a horrible man, then it would be far more interesting to find out about, right?
For a while, I believed that life reflected this conflict rule. Look at the celebrities who have overcome great hardship, look at everything that goes on in the world – war, famine, flood, hatred, racism, violence, agony, illness, death – and tell me that none of this is conflict.
So there are people that are happy – brief, glittering moments of joy that promises light and laughter – whilst other people experience happiness – a full life of easiness and satisfaction. I think people fall into one of these two categories – those who are happy and those who have happiness. Now, these are interchangeable categories – people who are simply happy can transform into a life of happiness and vice versa (though it’s less preferable).
I always thought I was in the former category – bright moments of happiness in a long dark tunnel of hard work and a lot of rubbish. Most people do, in fairness (see above comment about the state of the world). I am not a lucky person – things do not fall into my lap, I am not blessed with good fortune in love, life, money or anything else you might think of. Every penny I earn, I have grafted for – and hard. Everything that I fill my life with I work really hard for. And yes, there are millions of people who do the same, and millions that don’t have it as easy as I do. Their grafting is to find food for the day, or stay alive for another week. I’m lucky in the sense that I live a relatively comfortable life with good friends, good family and an awesome cat.
But shit things still happen. Brush yourself off, get up again, right? If no one did, the world would be very depressing.
But this post isn’t about me. It’s about my characters.
The first thing I do is put my characters into conflict – war, famine, hatred, and so on – and see how they come up. Are they happy people or do they have happiness? Those that have happiness, I’m afraid to say, tend to get pushed to the periphery, whilst those that are occasionally happy are my main characters.
Now, here’s the issue. When characters are built on conflict – what happens when the conflict is gone? I’m not a “happy ever after” type of writer… I’ll take bittersweet to downright mortifying endings over that any day. Which is why I’m having a problem with Jarrett – he’s simply too… HAPPY. He’s not bothered by conflict in the way he should. And I suspect he has a crush on Kendra. In other words, he’s not behaving how I want him to.
Here’s my dilemma. Do I ignore my previous rule, and keep Jarrett filled with happiness in the centre of my plot (just to bring some lightness to the whole thing) or do I push him to one side in favour of more jaded characters like Ajax?
I think I might have made a mistake. Remember how I told you all about my favourite characters and my desperate need to shoe-horn them into everything? Well, in fairness, they fit quite well into the story – like a Fellowship in Lord of the Rings, my cast of characters is large and well-rounded. But, I have also found a new character I might be falling in love with.
Try imagining a mix between Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and Dastan from Prince of Persia fame (Jake Gyllenhaal if you don’t know the computer game). Sprinkle in Jarrett’s previously-mentioned arrogance, and a certain dogged loyalty that is often at odds with his best instincts, and you might just about have him. He’s not as detestable as Gaston (even if you do secretly love him, admit it), and he’s not as brave as Dastan, but he’s intelligent and quick-minded, and really does have the best of intentions, even if they come out wrong.
So it’s now a battle of wills between Jarrett (who still features, minus the arrogance and plus a dark side) and the newcomer Ajax. I’m not sure who will win out yet… they are both doing quite well in their corners of the story, but I’m a bit worried that when they meet it might get a bit messy.
Does anyone have any tips on keeping their characters under control?
At least Sanoh is behaving herself, although she has a contender in Kendra that I think might come to blows at one point or another – we shall have to see whether they love/hate/love-to-hate each other later on. But for now, I think I have my cast. They’re as motley as the Fellowship, but definitely more gender-balanced. They are missing mini-people, but Vaxens are pretty Amazonian in height, so I think I should be allowed to go towards tall rather than small in my writing. For now, we have a team of four (possibly five if Ajax and Jarrett get along) but I can guarantee that more will appear on the long and winding road that is fantasy adventure…
I know, I know, I was briefly silent. Blame my internet – I have to rely on an infrequent and temperamental Dongle that only works when it feels like. I’m now back at the flat in Basingstoke – my den. Yes, I love my parent’s house, and my slightly mental cat, and the free food (I’m pretty sure these jeans weren’t that tight before I stayed there…), but nothing quite equals having My Own Place. Okay, so my bed’s broken (in the most boring way possible, I’m afraid – I lay on it) and I’m currently sleep on a mattress, and I’m too scared to turn on the heating until I get a Proper Job again. Oh, and the fridge is half-empty (hello size 10 by the end of September). But it’s Mine.
So what have I been doing with this valuable offline-time? Apart from reading (yes, I’m still ploughing my way through A Game of Thrones, but you’ll be pleased to hear I’m over halfway now), and apart from my “fascinating” temp job to add a few pennies to my pitiful bank account; well – I’ve been applying for jobs… HA!
Really, I’ve been fighting with myself over my characters. Who loves Aistren and our mysterious Cadellan?
Well, yes I do. But remember what I was doing in my last post? I’ve been writing fantasy on-and-off since the innocent age of 14 (I was awful back then, but managed to find one or two acceptable bits) and after all my chopping and sticking and rearranging, the one thing I’m not short of are characters… and I really want some of them to appear now. Like Rayne, my redhead, or Sanoh, my scarred and elegant duchess… or how about Jarett, my arrogant shit of a good-looking man, who you hate so much you kind of want to rip his clothes off?
Am I the only person who has favourites? The same characters you go back to again and again and desperately try to shoe-horn into every story you ever write because you just know how awesome they are and you know exactly what they would say in that situation. They come to your rescue every time you’ve written yourself into a corner with some pithy comment or amazing feat of bravery/cowardice/sexiness. You know the ones. The ones you think you’d want to be.
So, now what do I do? Do I push my favourites to the top of the class, and swiftly and subtly erase our kitchen-woman and slave-that-isn’t-a-slave? Do I try to blend the two and have an epic host of characters to rival War and Peace? Or do I just start again (which, by the way, I hate doing because it takes about 15 attempts of “starting again” until you end up in exactly the same place you were before).
So, here’s my question to you; do you want to hear more about Aistren and the Cadellan? Or are you bored with them already?