Where do Characters come from and what do they want?

Where do Characters come from and what do they want?

Interesting, complex characters are the most important element of any novel. I will tolerate the most cliched of settings and plots if I love the characters. When writing my own fantasy novel, (which involves the very cliched plot of a kidnapped princess) I sought to create a team of fun characters that I wanted to spend time with and see embark on future adventures. Knee-deep into draft three of my novel, Ghets, I’m not thrilled with my word choices (seriously Matt, you’re using ‘luckily’ again?), but I absolutely love my Ghets team. They feel rounded and interesting and play off each other well.

Creating characters is lot like creating worlds to me. There’s a long germination period where I play around with an idea in my head. I usually have some sort of framework to start with when I sit down to write, and generally can’t track the character’s inception point. Reez, my lead, started with some questions like why not make the lead an orc? Why not an orc woman? and grew from there. Elise the Coward’s backstory was a direct reaction to the macho-mythologizing of the Spartans. But other characters, like Jaques, seemed to emerge ex nihilo. I can’t even remember a time when I was work-shopping them.

Characters follow a truth that has become something of mantra for me and writing: everything is perfect, until it’s real. Meaning, when you’re doing the necessary, fun and frantic work of constructing a character in your head they seem dynamic and stuffed with potential. But then when you start arranging them on the page, you realize you don’t know what they’ll say or how they’ll react. No matter how much time you spend thinking about your characters, you don’t know them until you start writing them.

Writing is a process of creation, re-examination, and change (yes, I couldn’t think of a third ‘tion word), characters follow the same process. They start out one way in the early drafts, and then slowly evolve the more time we spend with them, shaping them, coming to understand them. I would even argue that it’s a good idea to just start with a scene, something you never intend to include in your novel, that’s just your characters doing something together or sitting around talking.

I’m a dialogue guy, so I do a lot of scenes of just talking. But when I first started writing I noticed that a lot of my characters sound alike. To try to find their voice I would play with dialogue, create lists of words they could or couldn’t use, tried to reach outside of my own vocabulary and vocal meter. I tend to ramble, so a lot of my characters did too. I tried to reign that in, create characters that said little or nothing and communicated with expressions and gestures or characters that spoke very precisely.

Character voice is important, it’s one of the few things that can help differentiate characters on the page. Ideally you want each character’s voice to be so unique that the reader can tell who’s speaking by voice alone. But what’s even more important than a character’s voice is a character’s desire.

If you want compelling characters you need to know what they want, and what’s keeping them from getting what they want. A lot of times what your character wants is something immaterial: respect, connection, etc. And also, a lot of times the character themselves might not realize, or be resistant to, their own desire. Ideally as the writer, you should know what your characters are after. Good scenes and good character moments are created when we let characters and their desires drive the plot.

If you get your character’s right they will help you understand your own story better, they’ll guide you as much as you guide them. Readers too will stick through a tough or detailed book if they love the cast. So take your time, play around with them, ask them questions. Figure out how they talk and think and most of all what they really want. It’ll help you figure out what you want from them.

Dear Beta-Reader

Dear Beta-Reader

I’ve been writing a lot about my novel Ghets recently and that’s because I’ve finished draft II! I’ve been working on this book for two years now and it’s finally ready to be shared. I put out the call for beta-readers and sent the novel to friends, family and acquaintances. The novel is far from complete at this point. I need to collect all the critiques and edits from my beta-readers and use them to sharpen the book into draft III. After draft III I’ll either be lucky enough to have an agent and publisher or I’ll need to hire an editor for draft IV and then finally publish the thing myself.

I know it’s a lot. So, let’s not get ahead ourselves. For this post I’m sharing the letter I sent out to beta-readers to thank them and let them know what I’m looking for. You might find it helpful, if you’re thinking about using beta-readers for your own project. Also I’ll never say no to people reading Ghets so if you’ve checked out the chapters I’ve posted and want to be a beta-reader too, let me know!


Dear Beta-Reader,

First, I want to thank you so, so, so, much for taking the time to read my novel. I know it’s long and it’s asking a lot of you. But just by reading this book and giving your critiques, edits and insights you are helping to shape this story. Books, like all creative works, are collaborative, the storyteller reacting to listener, feeding off their energy and emotion. It’s like a dialogue. And like all dialogues it helps to know what we’re discussing.

In truth I will take any edits you have to offer, but please don’t overextend yourself trying to correct every spelling, wrong word or grammar mistake. There are a lot of them and I will hunt them down with the help of an editor during the next draft.

What I’m looking for right now are ‘big picture’ reactions. What about the story worked for you? What about the story didn’t? Where was the writing confusing, where you couldn’t tell what was going on? Where there any characters that felt unnecessary? And most of all where there repetitive chapters or sections, or chapters that you felt didn’t add anything? This book is on the long side and I would love to be able to trim it down.

I will take any critiques you have to offer. If you couldn’t finish the book because of the time commitment, that’s fine! Just tell me what you thought of what you could read. Same is true if you dropped this book because the grammar was so bad, or because the general writing was awful, or because the story isn’t your thing. You don’t need to finish it to give me your thoughts. And please, be honest! I won’t be upset. In college I had my writing torn apart by my ex-girlfriend and her new ‘poet’ boyfriend during creative writing club. If I can survive that and still want to write, I can survive anything.

Once again thank you so much!

Ghets Chapter 2

Ghets Chapter 2

I’m trying something new. Every Friday I’m going to post some of my fiction work. I’m calling it ‘Fiction Fridays’ cause I’m creative like that. For my first Fiction Friday here is ‘Chapter 2 of Ghets’.

If you want to read Chapter 1 please check out my Ghets Preview page where I’ll be storing all the chapters I post.

Thanks!


Chapter

In the beginning, there was no Dienomachy. There were no gods. There was only the Ether.

From the Ether two gods emerged. Apherria, goddess of order and Neradogtha, goddess of chaos. They were each other’s opposite and should have hated one another other, but they did not. They felt a deep need for the other. They embraced and blended and all of existence was them, a swirl. The light chasing the dark, the dark chasing the light. The churn of creation.

In the churn the goddess came to understand themselves and each other, and love emerged. The first emotion, the most vital. Apherria and Neradogtha loved one another. They were still opposites, they would bicker and argue and fight, but they didn’t war. Instead their conflict helped them to grow and create. Apherria created the sun, but Neradogtha grew bored with it and kicked it across the sky creating night. Neradogtha made fire, but it was too hungry and wouldn’t stop eating so Apherria created water to douse it.

The sisters, the lovers, the first gods, worked like this. Creation was a game they played together, a language which expressed their love. They created the old gods, their first children, gods of stone and mountains, gods of wind, gods of moon, and many more. They raised their children together and taught them the language of creation

But unbeknownst to Neradogtha or Apherria, a third god had emerged from the ether. This third god lived alone, lost, unaware that there was anything like him in the universe. This god, Kor, the wandering god, traveled the vast nothingness and the lonely ether, searching for a home. He eventually found the world. And found the goddesses.

No one knows who Kor met first, Apherria or Neradogtha. But he met them separately, Apherria during the day and Neradogtha during the night. And for reasons only the gods know, both fell in love with Kor. The goddesses didn’t tell each other about this new god either. It was their first betrayal. Kor was different, something neither had created and that intrigued them and made them covet him. It is said the goddesses felt ashamed about their secret, and knew it was wrong, but they kept seeing Kor. Apherria during the day and Neradogtha at night. And Kor never revealed that he met another god either, for he was a foolish god who wanted only to be loved and feared returning to the lonely ether.

The old gods, Apherria and Neradogtha’s first children, grew alarmed at these rendezvous and conspired to reveal the truth to their mothers. Moon and Sun entered the same sky, creating the first eclipse. Apherria and Neradogtha both came out to meet Kor. And he revealed himself to both, not sure if it was night or day. The sisters were confused to see each other, but then realized what had happened. The love that they coveted was not theirs alone, their sister had stolen it.

Apherria and Neradogtha were angry and aghast at each other and themselves and most of all at Kor. They banished the wandering god to the sky and they both retreated to opposite corners of the world. If it all ended there then maybe they could have reconciled, as they had done in times past. Maybe they could have even forgiven Kor and all three gods could have lived in peace and love. But it did not end there.

For Neradogtha and Apherria were both pregnant with Kor’s children. And the birth of those children would lead to the first atrocity and from that would bloom a hundred upon hundred more. The world would be rent in two, with each god taking half, turning it into their own lands.

Apherria founded Aphetrria and gave birth to seven daughters, the Elfraye, goddess of civilization, whose descendants would become the Elves. Neradogatha founded Neradoom and gave birth to Zaevas, a son who would live nine lives. In his first life Zaevas molded the Dairkkul out of living Doomcotta. And ever since their births the elves, children of Apherria, and the Dairkkul, children of Neradogtha, have been at war.