Answering a question about how I write characters


The Flames of Nevyana blog tour continues. Today, I have this guest post at The Avid Reader about how I write characters…

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

Characters are the heart and soul of fiction: just as excellent acting can redeem even the ugliest set in a theatrical production, so excellent characters can go a long way toward overcoming deficiencies in an imaginary world. On the other hand, even the most wonderfully constructed world, however interesting it might appear at first glance, will soon will seem as flat as the aforementioned theatrical set without excellent characters to inhabit it.

By the time I’m ready to write a book like Flames of Nevyana, I know who the main characters are going to be: I knew, in this case, that there would be three viewpoint characters, each of whom comes from a different culture within the Kingdom, each of whom follows a different god or goddess and thus has a different take on the world from the others. But that’s not to say I knew everything about those characters before I began. Writing is a very strange business. Words flow out of my fingers through the keyboard to the screen. Each word launches the next word, each sentence the next sentence, each paragraph the next paragraph. As a scene takes shape, characters may literally appear from nowhere. A main character has been called to a meeting; clearly there must be other people at the meeting; next thing you know, there’s someone at the meeting who has a secret which changes everything. Before I began writing the scene of that meeting, I didn’t know that character existed. Suddenly, he or she is important.

This is usually an unconscious process for me, but not always. In my science fiction novel Terra Insegura (DAW Books), sequel to my Aurora Award-winning novel Marseguro, I found myself in the quandary of needing to dramatize an important event taking place on a starship in orbit when all of my established viewpoint characters were down on the planet’s surface. I had no choice but to create a new viewpoint character so readers would have a window into the events in orbit. Having created the character, I had to flesh him out. His backstory informed his characterization, and led directly to what proved to be a pivotal scene later in the novel that I had no idea would exist when I began writing the book. The character I had created merely to solve a technical problem ended up being a major secondary figure in the story, with his own tragic story arc, and also a useful foil for the main character, forcing him to question his own actions and beliefs.

This kind of thing happens all the time, and I’m glad it does. I’ve never written a story yet that adhered perfectly to my synopsis. Instead, my story constantly surprises me, as events and characters pop up on the page. I know they came out of my head and through my fingers, but they’re still a surprise. That’s why I’m never bored when I’m writing—and I hope readers are never bored when they’re reading.

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