There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Characters October 26, 2013

I’m not entirely sure why I thought I would be wrapping up the Encyclobibliogrimoire series today with Magic, but we’re gonna hold off on that seeing as how I only glossed over a major, MAJOR component of every story:

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I’m sure you guys wouldn’t have forgotten this component of your Encyclobibliogrimoire, but we’ll go over it anyway. The first suggestion I would have, that is not all biased, would be to go back over some of the character building posts we’ve made here at TADA over the past year. There’s some good stuff in there. And to be a pal, I’m even going to compile a list for you:

Oh, and don’t forget to take your character’s race into account (See: Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Races) So how do all of these posts help us with our Encyclobibliogrimoire? Easy. They help us to create well-rounded and unique characters. Don’t lean on stereotypes, and never treat any character like a throwaway character in your books. If a character appears on your pages, they should have a place in your story bible. World-building isn’t always just about the world itself. A lot of draw in fantasy novels is how real your characters are and how well your audience can connect to them.

First, start with the basics. I already listed those before, but lets go over them again. Depending on how minor the characters are, not all of these will apply. But you should at least try to fill out as many as possible. It will do wonders for helping you get a good grip on that character.

    • Name
    • Age
    • Birthday
    • Birth Place
    • Race
    • Physical description
    • Abilities
    • Family members
    • Best friend
    • Love interest

Next, get into their character traits and history. I put these two together because a lot of times they go hand in hand. My main character Zelene has an attitude and a chip on her shoulder, but she is also one of the most compassionate and passionate characters in the book. Why? Because she grew up in the ugly side of the foster-care system and was physically abused most of her life. This is the reason for her anger, and for her empathy when she sees other downtrodden people.

After you’ve nailed down their history, get into the plot points they have to deal with in your story. It seems silly to outline everything again from the fabulous storyboard I’m sure you’ve made, but it’s more important than you might think. This will help you to track your character’s progress throughout your story. As writers, we never want our characters to be stagnant. We write about the journeys they are on, and those journeys change them as they move forward. Track this, and make sure your character is developing the way you want them to.

Next, talk about relationships. You might have already covered this in the previous two points, but it’s a good idea to at least have a rough list of the relationships your character has and what kind. Do they have a good, strong relationship with their parents? Do they hate their brother? Idolize their best friend? All of these things effect how they react in certain situations.

Last, talk to your character. I recently did a blog tour for Heirs of War, and did several character interviews as tour stops. I was surprised by how refreshing it was to sit down and talk to my characters like they were real. You’re a writer–you come up with the conversation. It might feel silly at first. I know the first time I tried this years ago after reading that J.R. Ward did this, I felt like a complete idiot. My suggestion? Don’t use a questionnaire that is already filled out. Think about what you would want to say to your characters, or what they might want to say to you. I know Tate has some choice words for me…Anyway. You might be surprised and get to see a whole different side to your characters that you didn’t realize was there.

Whew. Now I feel better about the character portion of the Encycliobibliogrimoire. It was sorely lacking before. Next time we’ll talk about magic, but I want to hear your thoughts. Think I missed anything this go round with characters? Think we had enough covered before? See me in the comments!

  ~Mara Valderran
 

What A Character February 27, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 5:30 am
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K. L. Schwengel

Plot can drive a story, but without characters to keep it on the road, even the most intriguing plot can spin into the ditch. Not just any characters will do, however. They need to be vibrant, engaging, capable of either making us love or hate them. Two dimensional characters will flutter away in the breeze and leave us as flat as they are.
So, how to go about making your characters come to life?
First off, give them a flaw. Or several flaws. Even the most badass hero has to have a weakness. Internal demons, a physical issue, personality trait — without it, readers aren’t going to care overmuch about our hero. If he’s Prince Charming, perfect in every way, handsome, strong, intelligent, kind, noble, blah, blah, bo-ring. What if Prince Charming is insecure? What if he’s hiding some dark secret that eats at him? How does he handle that? How does it effect his ability to pass off the Charming charade, and what are the consequences of it? Now you’ve got a character we can possibly relate to.
Make it tough on them. Nobody gets to skate through life and avoid all the pitfalls. Throw things at your characters. Literally and figuratively. Show them overcoming adversity, or not. The most interesting characters are the ones that struggle to get to the end of the story.  And remember, they don’t always win. That’s okay. That’s why we can relate to them.
Show growth. If your heroine starts out as a spoiled, pampered girl and ends the story as a spoiled, pampered girl, you’ve got a problem. Nobody is going to want to stick with her to the end. She’ll be the character everyone is hoping will get killed off just to get her out of the way. That flaw I mentioned, those things you’re throwing at your character? They build tension and help move the plot (otherwise, they shouldn’t be there) which means they need to affect your heroine.
Make them individuals. No two people are the same. Even identical twins have something that sets them apart from one another. Use that. Study the people you know. What are their little quirks? Do they talk with their hands? Have a nervous gesture? Like to dress flamboyantly? Whatever it is, find it and use it.
Dialogue helps. A creature in its own right, good dialogue can be tricky. Read your dialogue out loud. If your tongue trips over it, you’ve got issues. Listen to how people around you talk. Most people use contractions and a lot of adverbs. They also tend not to use proper sentence structure. Yes, they dangle their participles all over the place, even in public. Give your characters their own unique voices. A fun exercise to try is to write an entire scene using nothing but dialogue. No tags, no action, just people talking. The reader should be able to distinguish between characters based on speech patterns, and word choices.
Now, while you’re creating all these marvelous main characters, don’t forget the minor ones. If they’re important enough to have a walk on role, their important enough to pay attention to. If you’re putting them in just for fluff, get rid of them. They deserve to be just as real as the main players.
Really delving into your character’s skin can be one of the most fun and exciting parts of being a writer. Readers will fall in love with your flawed hero, your sullied heroine. They’ll love to hate your psychotic antagonist. Nothing like a good baddie to get the blood boiling. But it’s up to you to get them there. To lift that character from flat and boring, to full-figured and intriguing. And always remember, how your characters view one another can also tell volumes about them.
So, what are your tips and tricks for character development? What makes a character memorable for you?

 

How to Create Memorable Magical Characters February 2, 2013

One of the reasons I love the fantasy genre is the scope it provides for unleashing the imagination – especially when it comes to wild and wonderful characters. Whether it’s a dragon, a talking lion, dryad, elf or three-headed cave troll with a penchant for peanut butter, magical characters can bring both colour and depth to any fantasy tome. But given they exist only in our minds, or the collective realm of myth or fairytale, – how do we make them feel real?

1. Use Traditional Concepts

We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. There is a great wealth of folklore, and definitive works, that can provide a foundation for your magical character.  You can either adhere strictly to the well known – and accepted aspects of this folklore (which your reader will also be familiar with), or you can use it as a starting point for your own unique flavour of character.

Vampires, the (almost overdone) mythical creature of the moment, are an excellent example, with a rich history. Most people know vampires as undead, fanged, blood sucking creatures of the night, with an hypnotic sensuality, who may or may not be adversely effected by garlic, sunlight, holy water and crucifixes. In a perfect how to, The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer took the traditional vampire and gave it a sparkly, teenage, vegetarian makeover that resonated with a huge audience.

2. A Good First Impression 

A strong first impression is important when you’re introducing any character – but even more so when that character is magical. The reader needs some form of context to understand them, so pay attention to the physical traits and how the character impresses as being different.

For example if your magical character is a great golden lion who wields the oldest magic of all, his first appearance should make an impact. In The Magician’s Nephew, (the prequel to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), we hear Aslan singing Narnia into being before we see him at all. And Lewis’s first description leaves us in no doubt that this is no ordinary lion:

It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song…

And because it’s always worth a lesson in how to show not tell:

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool…

If you’re a purist, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was technically the first time Aslan appeared in print. But even there Lewis used a similar technique – having other characters talk frequently (and with great excitement and anticipation) about Aslan’s coming, before the children finally see him surrounded by an audience of Narnia’s magical creatures.

While you don’t need to spell out every detail of your character’s magical nature, at least give the reader an idea of how to respond to them. Are they good, bad, powerful or interesting?

3. More than Human

Many magical characters, at their core, are portrayed as humans with special abilities. While this allows the reader to identify with the character, some of the most memorable magical characters I’ve come across have noticeably different perspectives and attitudes. Star Trek’s Borg race – which values the collective consciousness is a good example. As are Jennifer Fallon’s Tide Lords, who bored with having experienced everything life has to offer, develop their own self-serving agendas – incapable of having regard for humans or anything else with a short (and by their standards, insignificant) lifespan.

Because we can never truly shake off our human-ness (don’t worry neither can the reader), try and think how your character’s unique characteristics impact on their world view – and in particular their interactions with humans. Comparison is a great tool in storytelling.

Like any other character, a magical character needs to be well developed. Make sure they have strengths and weaknesses, catch-phrases and preferences – and a discernible character arc. Most importantly make sure the reader can connect with them – and hopefully you’ll have created a character that not only lives on the page, but is truly memorable.

by Raewyn Hewitt

 

How to Make or Break Fantasy Clichés January 30, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 6:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Fantasy is a genre that is as old as the human race. Ever since we’ve been able to share stories, they’ve featured mythical beasts and people who can wield magic, among other such fantastical elements that capture the imagination. It’s no wonder that today, in the 21st century, finding a unique fantasy concept can be challenging. So many of these tales fall back on the clichés of old that can be predictable and tired. However, because there are literally centuries of fantasy stories and several major blockbusters in there as well, creating something brand new can be daunting. I encourage every and all fantasy writers to seek out that unique concept, but in the meantime, focus on how you can make clichés your own, or break them entirely. I’ve including some examples:

Magic:

Make- This can be one of the simplest fantasy elements to make unique. Change the name of the individual from witch to something new. Have them use magic in a different way than just spells or curses.

Break- Simple. Don’t have magic. I know that might frighten some people, but you can still have a fantasy story without overt magic.

Princess:

Make- Typically the princess doesn’t want to wed, or be in the royal family at all, so you can embrace these features and transform the cliché. Perhaps instead your character is a prince? Or doesn’t know they’re part of the royal line?

Break- Instead of giving a character a royal title, make them important to your world and your plot in a different manner.

Swords:

Make- Let’s face it, almost every fantasy story has some sort of medieval setting, so perhaps the way to make the swordplay unique is to use an unusual setting. Asian or Middle Eastern locales get far less page time than western style worlds.

Break- In your story, you could eliminate swords by giving the people another mode of weaponry. Bows, axes, perhaps something conjured from your head.

Ultra Heroes / Villains:

Make – You can write a great story using ultra-pro/antagonists. The major fantasy franchises have all done it. What makes them work is the character’s depth and motivations. Make them real.

Break- Gray area characters are typically more exciting and interesting to read than those working solely for one side. By having your characters toe the line, you can break the good vs evil convention.

Destiny:

Make- I’ll admit, this is one of the toughest categories. If your story hinges around a prophecy or destiny plot, you’ll have to really sort out a way to make it unique. Making the character conflicted is a start, but there needs to be more.

Break- To subvert this fantasy staple, maybe the prophecy is wrong, or stolen or falsified. That could throw a wrench into people’s perceptions for sure.

Wise Mentor:

Make- Typically there will be an older character who helps the younger character(s) understand the world and by extension, the reader. By embracing it, your sage figure will need some defining feature, a flaw or trait that really makes them stand out.

Break- You can break this simply by not making them magical as that is a typical attribute. Perhaps the character is female, or young, or not human at all.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There’s a whole book’s worth of fantasy clichés out there: weirdly spelled names, limited female characters, the evil twin, people fighting with sword and never getting hurt, the list go on. What fantasy writers must learn to do is locate and understand these clichés while brainstorming how to either make them their own or break them completely. In a world filled with fantasy novels, this is a surefire way to have yours stand out.

~Rachel H

 

Why’d They Do That? When Our Beloved Characters Die December 12, 2012

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 6:00 am
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I remember vividly the line from The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks that tore my heart out and left me with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Then the mace slipped from his hand, his eyes glazed over; with a long sigh, his body slid slowly, lifelessly to the death that had finally claimed him.

No!  It was nearly the scream heard round the world.

Every reader has had a similar experience, I’m sure.  You’re lost in the story, the characters have become like family and you yearn for that happily ever after ending, the one where everyone makes it out alive.  Battered and bruised, perhaps, but ready to fight another day.  The next thing you know, that evil author has pulled the rug out from under you.  You can barely stand to read on as your heart crumbles to dust.

The resounding question is always, why?

Well, trust me, from an author’s perspective (at least this author) it’s often no easier for us to kill off a character we’re hoping will be well-loved, than it is to read it.  Heck, sometimes it’s not even easy to kill off the bad guys.  I mean, really, who doesn’t love a good baddy?  We adore our characters as much, or possibly more, than our readers do.  After all, they’re part of us.

But think about it, what keeps you turning the pages?  Well, besides a well-crafted story, that is.  What keeps you on the edge of your seat, fingers shaking as you flip one page to the next one?  What tugs you along, sinking you deeper and deeper into the world the author has created?

Many things.  But one of the biggest is tension, and to build that tension there must be risk.  The higher the risk, the more the tension.  Face it, if you know without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what gets thrown at your favorite hero, she will emerge victorious at the end, you may still thoroughly enjoy the read, but not with the same emotional investment.  And that’s what it’s all about.  If you can’t be certain what will happen next, if there is a possibility someone may not make it to the next page, aren’t you going to be just a bit more engaged in the tale?

I know I am.

When I put on my Reader hat, I want to get lost.  I want the world around me to fade to grey while the world on the pages runs roughshod over my emotions.

And, just like life, the unexpected happens.

So, next time your favorite character meets with his demise and you want to throw the book across the room (which I wouldn’t recommend with an e-reader.  No, not a good idea at all.) wipe your tears and thank the author.

“Thank the author?  But, they’ve ripped my heart out, pounced on it, crushed it into dust and sent it blowing in the wind.”

Yes.  They transported you to another world and got you so totally lost, nothing else around you mattered.

Isn’t that why we read in the first place?