#CharacterCharades

38 CharacterCharades

I am celebrating this week!

I have been struggling with one of the characters in my current Work In Progress, but I have finally had a break-through in his development and it has had a massive impact on the direction of my book (not to mention my mood).

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This guy (and I will get on to who it is soon) has been by far the trickiest character I have ever come up with; not because he has some sort of great and powerful lineage, but because he is just a normal bloke in the real world.

I’m a Fantasy/Sci-Fi writer for a reason!

9879559There have been times while working with this character where it has felt like I was playing charades with someone who had one hand tied behind his back. I was there making all sorts of guesses about what he was trying to put across, but nothing seemed to hit the mark. It was very frustrating.

And I figured, hey, why not make a game out of the whole thing?

So who’s up for a round of Character Charades?

The rules are below (together with my offering). I’d love to hear your take on this with your own character, so please leave your own answers in the comments below, or, better yet, share a #CharacterCharades post on you own blog/vlog/channel, whatever outlet you are using!

#CharacterCharades – The Rules

1: Name the character you have found most challenging to write. This could be someone in your current Work In Progress, or someone in a completed/published piece. If they gave you a headache at any point, I want to hear about it! Extra points if that headache was accompanied by a nosebleed.

2: Give a quick reason why this character was so challenging.

3: Using the above-named character, answer the following Charades inspired questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Give the title and a BRIEF description of the work they featured in. If it is a published piece, please don’t forget to include links to where it can be found. I’m sure we’d all like to know more. If it is a Work In Progress, link to any sites/pages where you have talked about it to any sort of length.

“The” – What is this character’s role in the story (the protagonist, the villain, the love interest, etc)? If they have a job, what is it?

Short Words – Use five words of no more than five letters each to describe this character.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – Can a comparison be made between your character and anyone else in popular culture? This could be another fictional character or someone who may have inspired this character’s creation. OR, is there someone that this character is the antithesis of?

One Syllable – Share one interesting fact about them.

Song – Share your favourite line of dialogue from your character.

4: Once you’re done, pick a couple of people to tag for them to participate as well. I won’t specify the number you should tag. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

And that’s it! Simple! Please feel free to be creative with this and, above all, have fun!

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So here are my own answers to get things rolling:

1: My character is Simon Locke.

2: He was particularly challenging because he is a ‘real-world’ character and I don’t tend to write those. I also found it difficult to fit him in with the rest of the story. He seemed to be on the side-lines for quite a long time (but not anymore!)

3: The questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Simon is part of my current Work in Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire; what will (eventually!) be my debut novel. I have talked about it to some extent here. To give you an overview of the book, The Greenstone In The Fire follows three completely separate characters, each living in their own world, but whose paths start to cross in unexpected ways when their lives gradually become intertwined and the boundaries between their worlds blur.

“The” – Simon Locke is The Protagonist of this story (or one of them, at least). He is a writer (I know, rule one, don’t write about writers – oops!) who quite literally loses the plot and gets lost in it at the same time.

Short Words – love, grief, twin, maybe crazy.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – I’m going to go with “Doesn’t Sound Like” for this one. Simon draws a lot of inspiration from Clint Eastwood in the book, but he is most definitely nothing like Eastwood himself!

One Syllable – Simon’s obsession with Westerns started at about the same time as his feelings for Naomi (i.e. as they met). It has been the main focus of his work ever since.

Song – OK, this was hard since I am going to be re-writing a lot of Simon’s part of the book but then I found… “You’re only crazy if the voices talk back, right?”

4: So, rather than tagging anyone specific, I would like to nominate anyone reading to have a go at this! As I said before, add a comment below, or post it in your own blog/vlog etc. Just don’t forget the hashtag #CharacterCharades, and if you feel like it, link back to here!

Have fun everyone!

I look forward to hearing about your troublesome characters!

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The Name Game: Characters

37 Names 2

Last week I was looking at the process of naming places in your fictional world. If you missed that post, you can find it here.

This week, I’ll be looking at naming characters. I have mentioned before that I really enjoy the process of naming things for whichever project I am working on. Giving someone (or something) a name is an important step in working out who/what they are. The same holds true for finding the title of the project itself.

While I was planning out what I would be looking at this week, I was all ready to wax lyrical about the importance of the meanings behind names and how this is the primary factor in my own choice of names for my characters.

That is, until I looked back through the characters I have named over the past few years, and realised that their names weren’t chosen for the meanings alone. There was actually a host of other factors that went into them (you’ll see what I mean soon).

But first of all…

The important of name meanings

1_fhLMwRrG7yzfGNjdTd5ZoQSome writers truly take this to heart and every character in their work has a name with a significant meaning that reveals something about them or the role they are to play in the story. Just take a quick flick through the Harry Potter series, or The Hunger Games, and look into what the names mean. Some of them are truly eye-opening.

At the end of the day, a name is a word, and all words have meanings. When I am trying to decide on a character’s name, the first thing I do is look at the meaning (even if I then end up going with something completely different).

When my parents named me and my sister, they chose names that had pleasant meanings (literally in my sister’s case, as Naomi means ‘my pleasantness’).

In the real world, meanings are important when it comes to names. They can be an indication of the parents’ hopes for the child’s life. In fiction, they can be a foreshadowing of that character’s possible fate, or even hold a note of irony, if that character deliberately does not live up to the name he/she has been given.

20180911_203559_resizedAs a jumping-off point I have a book of baby names on my shelf that is my first point of reference (yes, before Google) when a new character of mine needs a name.

But, as I mentioned above, the majority of my characters haven’t been named for the name’s meaning. As I took a trip down memory lane with these names, I was reminded of the many other factors that took precedent.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean

Medwyn, Iestyn, Haydn and Dylan (The Greenstone In The Fire)

No, these names did not stem from an obsession with ending in the letter ‘N.’ Last week, I talked about the Celtic/Welsh connections surrounding Aurelia’s world in my current Work In Progress. The connection extends to a fair few of the other characters in that particular world. All four of these characters are from Dunffin, with Medwyn and Iestyn (pronounced YES-tin) being knights who lived long before the book begins, and Haydn and Dylan having a significant role to play in getting Aurelia to where she is at the start of the book.

All of these are names I encountered while living in Wales, and they seemed appropriate for the Celtic-inspired people of Dunffin.

Runcorn (The Greenstone In The Fire)

Runcorn is not of the same world as Aurelia. He inhabits a world very similar to the Old West, and was one of the hardest characters I have ever named. Being, essentially, a gunslinger, I couldn’t give him a ‘normal’ name, like John or Alan, but finding a name that stuck took a while.

5WVGYZ4DhZz6SgRqTiIxRQcm94hN0Kd59SWPOkOPibUIn the end, he was named after a town in Cheshire, that I just happened to travel through on a VERY long train journey (Carmarthen to Aberdeen – look it up; it’s a killer). I was thinking over what to name him as we pulled into the station at Runcorn… and the rest is history.

This particular source of inspiration also led to Runcorn’s horse being named Alston (after a village in Cumbria that I have travelled through on many occasions).

Nathaniel Griffin and Miranda Phoenix (The Coalition series)

I mentioned last week my Sci-Fi series based around five planets (each with a woman’s name). Well, these are two of the main characters in that series. They are very different from one another, but end up finding common ground. I wanted there to be a connection between then in their names and, for some reason that I can no longer remember (but it was really important at the time), giving them both mythical creatures as surnames seemed the best way to achieve this.

Jack Cavendish (Eye Witness)

Jack has the honour of being in possession of my favourite character name to date, and it came about thanks to three different factors.

Firstly, I wanted to name a character Jack. It is, after all, the coolest of all hero names out there (Jack O’Neill, Jack Bauer, Jack Dawson…).

Secondly, I had read somewhere (or overheard, I don’t remember all of the details for this) that a lot of heroic characters have the initials JC (John Connor, John Carter, James Cole, John Coffey…). A lot of the time, this is done to draw connections between the character and Jesus Christ. In terms of my Jack, this is not strictly speaking the case. He is actually more of a Noir-esque flawed/anti-hero.

2WESaz00cc The third factor came from The West Wing, which has a character called Oliver Babish (played by Oliver Platt). I was struck by how lovely it sounded to have a name ending in ‘ish’ and so looked for an opportunity to use it.

Thus, with these three converging factors, Jack Cavendish was born.

So there you are. My tips for naming characters (such as they are): start by looking at a name’s meaning and then jump off at a complete tangent until you land on something you like.

One Last Thought

Of course, the one thing to remember in the Name Game, whenever you decide to play, is that you always have the option to go back and change your mind. I mentioned last week that I have recently gone back and changed one of the place names in my Work In Progress. The same is true of several of my characters as well. My main antagonist in The Greenstone In The Fire has gone through several incarnations for his name. To begin with, I referred to him simply as The Wizard, then he was Olav for a while, before I finally settled on Thane. I can finally say I am happy with his name, but there are other characters in there who may go through a similar transformation before I’m finished.

This is because a character’s name may fit quite well when you first start working on something, but as the story evolves (and the characters with it), sooner or later those names may not work in the way you imagined.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind part way through if you need to. It is, after all, your story.

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The Name Game: Places

36 Names 1

It seems quite appropriate to be looking at naming fictional places this week, as I have just spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in my current Work In Progress (more on that later).

First of all, apologies for the August hiatus. I would like to say this was because I was off living the high life on some sun-soaked Caribbean island with nothing but sea turtles and rum for company. This would be a lie. In actuality, the day job got busy and so my residual brain power (that usually gets channelled into writing) was somewhat sapped for a while.

But enough of my excuses and back to the fun stuff!

I’m sure you’ve all been given tons of advice on how to go about naming the characters and places for your fictional worlds. In fact, I’m sure that if you did a little research on the matter (and by ‘research’ I mean ten to fifteen minutes skimming through a Google search), you’ll find the same three pieces of advice come up time and time again.

There are, of course, more than just three pieces of advice out there on the subject, but these are the three that recur most often. Call them the golden rules if you like:

  1. A character’s name should reflect his/her setting and background
  2. Be consistent – if you have lots of characters with a common background or culture, make sure their names are equally exotic (or bland, depending on where you land on that sort of thing)
  3. Avoid giving characters similar sounding/looking names

71rns9I6NHLIf you want some more information about when to use and when to break these rules, I highly recommend you take a look at the video link below, where George R R Martin discusses the character names within the Song of Ice and Fire series.

Rather than go over ground that has already been covered so well by other writers and bloggers, I wanted to share with you some of the names I have given to my own characters and places over the years, and share some of the thought processes that went into them. I’ll leave character names to next week and will be focusing on place names for now, as these (in my experience) can be harder to pin down.

Going back to our three golden rules, setting, background and culture are all extremely important when it comes to naming places. While looking at the various aspects of World Building, I touched upon the importance of understanding the physical layout of your world and the people who inhabit it. Both of these will have an impact on the names given to places.

1534803687By way of a real-world example, my sister and I went to Whitby in North Yorkshire at the beginning of August. While driving around, we spotted signs to a village called Ugthorpe. For those of you not familiar with North Yorkshire, please be assured that the name Ugthorpe could not have originated anywhere else on the planet other than North Yorkshire. The name itself demands a Yorkshire accent for its uttering!

What I have found useful when naming fictional places is to have a theme that all of the names can link into. This won’t necessarily be something that is directly linked to the themes of the book itself, but it does help with the consistency aspect. After all, the chances are that town names within a particular country or region will all sound as if they have originated in that particular area.

Here are some that have worked for me:

Musical Terms

In my current Work In Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire, I have not one but two fictional worlds to populate and name! When it came to naming places in Runcorn’s world, I ended up drawing on musical terms, thanks to the name I assigned to the area in which Runcorn lives.

black-and-white-blur-book-164821Runcorn’s world is based on the Old West and the terrain is similar to the Utah/Arizona desert (specially Monument Valley). The first name I came up with for this fictional world was the Requiem Valley. Given the bleak landscape and what Runcorn has gone through before the start of the book, it seemed quite apt. And for no other reason than they sounded quite good, I stuck with the musical theme for naming other places within that world.

This led to naming: the cities of Anthem, Counterpoint, and Ballad; the towns of Diminish Nine, and Caprice Minor; and other features like Lake Allegro, and a ship called the Lyrical.

Human Names for Places 

This particular example stems directly back to Joss Whedon and Serenity (the 2007 film that wrapped up the Firefly series). In Serenity, Whedon ingeniously named a planet Miranda. And it seemed to be a perfect fit, to the point at which I couldn’t shake the concept of naming planets after people when it came to naming the planets (and moons) in what will eventually become a five-book series set around five planets in coalition with one another.

Space-Planets-Sci-Fi-WallpaperAs much as I wanted to use the name Miranda as one of the planets, I couldn’t. It felt too much like stealing. In the end, Miranda became one of the story’s main characters instead. The planets themselves were eventually named Aristella, Cadence, Dana, Sabine, and Abi. Dana (the third planet) also has four moons, which became Cressida, Morgana, Talia, and Dimelza.

These nine names aren’t necessarily common names for girls these days, but I felt they had enough gravitas for them to work as celestial entities.

Celtic(ish) 

relief-carved-celtic-knot-tile-shannon-greshamThis last theme is a little harder to pin down, as I did not consciously set out to follow it (as I did with the two examples above). Going back to The Greenstone In The Fire, the second fictional world that I have to contend with is Aurelia’s world. This world has gone through a few different processes in relation to settling on the place names.

My jumping off point here was the castle where Aurelia spends the majority of her story. This castle is called Idris, which is a Welsh name meaning ‘Fiery Lord’. There are two other place names in the area surrounding Idris that have a Welsh/Celtic connection to them.

The first is the Forest of Nantglas, which loosely translates as Blue Spring. This is the forest that used to grow around Idris itself, but has since been laid to waste and is now an arid desert.

The second is the most recent addition to the world. I mentioned at the start of this post that I have spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in the book. This came about for two reasons:

  1. I wasn’t happy with the name I had originally come up with
  2. I discovered that there already existed a place in Wales with the name I had first chosen

Drawing on the Welsh and Celtic connections that I had already used for other names and places in Aurelia’s world, I eventually came up with the name Dunffin. This is essentially a hybrid name, combining the Welsh word ffin (border) and the Scottish Gaelic word dùn (fort).

Dunffin borders Idris’ desert and is the place that Aurelia escapes from at the start of the book. It is a much stronger name than the one it replaced (which was Neyland) and helps to continue to Celtic theme that is borne out in the names of other characters from that area (more on that next week).

arid-geology-land-86428

Now, you may be reading the above thinking there seems to be rather a lot of method to my madness when it comes to naming places. Please be assured that these are just a few times in which I have consciously followed a theme when choosing place names. At the end of the day, there is a lot that can be gained from playing around with syllables and sounds until you land on something that you feel fits your story.

Having said that, when it comes to naming characters, I do find that the meaning behind the names can have a considerable bearing on the characters in question. Come back next week to explore that further with me.


 

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Outlining A Novel

35 Outlining a Novel

I say half a lesson because the analogy is not a perfect one (as you will see), but it is an image I quite frequently relate to when it comes to my writing.

Quirrell came back out from behind the Mirror and stared hungrily into it.

“I see the stone… I’m presenting it to my master… but where is it?”

 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

I’m sure not many of us will have found ourselves identifying with Professor Quirrell, but the more I work on my first novel, the more poignant the above quote becomes. I can understand his frustration at this point, at seeming so close to his ultimate goal, and yet still so far.

17b900257df0b77d5d0fbb1499983daa.pngIn terms of my writing, I can quite easily picture myself with a completed novel, sitting back and enjoying the relief of it. But how do I get to that point? What are the steps that I have to take to reach my desired destination?

Now, this is where the Quirrell analogy falls down a little, because the answer for Quirrell (and ultimately Harry) was to want something for the right reason. Harry also had Dumbledore’s magic there to drop the Stone into his pocket at the opportune moment.

What does ring true, though, is that just wanting something isn’t enough. When it comes to writing, hard work is absolutely essential. After all, novels don’t write themselves, and they certainly don’t drop fully written into your pocket (if only).

For many writers, that hard work begins with a plan. I know there are some out there, my best friend included, who can get to writing without rigorously plotting out as much of the novel as possible beforehand. We will (begrudgingly) call these writers “The Blessed.”

I am not one of the Blessed.

I would be completely lost without the outline that I have prepared for my novel. It is not something I have always used (which may partly explain why it has taken me so long to get to where I am now), but when I did finally organise my thoughts into a plan, I found my writing speed picked up considerably, as did my enthusiasm for the project because I had a clearer vision of what I was doing.

Mini-Disclaimer: What will follow in this post is a breakdown of the outlining stages that work for me. This will not work for everyone, but I hope that you will be able to use aspects of my process to help inform your own.

Step 1: Inspiration

ignitesessionI would assume this will be the same for everyone. The first step to writing any novel is the idea. One tiny spark of inspiration that quickly catches fire and blazes through your imagination.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get you to pinpoint where your inspiration comes from. Nine times out of ten, that is impossible to do, but whatever inspiration has got hold of you, run with it!

For me, this usually means getting hold of a pen and notebook (this means purchasing a brand new notebook for a brand new project) and writing down everything that comes to mind. A lot of this may look like gibberish, but hopefully somewhere in those notes will be the back bone of a plot, and maybe a character or two who will carry it through.

Step 2: The Name Game

hello-my-name-is_0I am aware that I may stand alone in naming things so early on, but honestly I love this part! Whether it’s coming up with names for characters, fictional places or the novel as a whole, I am quite happy to sit for a few hours coming up with lists of potential names.

Generally speaking, when it comes to naming characters and places, I will have some sort of ‘theme’ in mind (more on this in future posts).

Most importantly for me in these early stages, I will come up with a name for the whole project. At this point, this will only be a working title, and there have been more than a few occasions where the title has changed the further into the project I have progressed.

But names and titles can be quite telling. For me, they help to focus my mind on what will (or could be) the overriding themes of the novel.

Step 3: Visualisation

Some writers swear by Pinterest boards, or something similar. They will collect images that they associate with their work in progress, either as a whole or in connection with certain characters or aspects.

I don’t do this. My visualisation stage comes in the form of a mock book cover. Like the title of a project, a cover image gives me something to work towards. I am self-taught in the ways of Photoshop (the basics anyway), so I will spend some time pulling a few images together into one single image that I can then keep in mind as a sort of banner to mark the finish line I am working towards.

Step 4: Characterisation and World Building

Flags-Of-The-World-HD-Wallpaper-1024x508As I have already covered a lot of ground on these aspects in recent posts (see the links below), I won’t go into too much detail here. This is the point at which I will define the boundaries and rules of the world I am creating and will also get to know the main characters I will be putting in charge of the story.

When I do finally get to writing, I may very well add more details to the characters as I discover them, and also develop other characters as they are encountered and needed.

Step 5: The Outline

By this point, I should have a fairly good idea of where the story is going and what the key events will be. This is where I will try to get as much of the plot bashed out as I can.

During the previous stages, it is highly likely that a handful of scenes will have been very clear in my mind. If that is the case, then these will have been drafted straightaway (or at the very least noted down in as much detail as possible). When outlining the rest of the novel, I will ensure I am clear about the events leading up to these scenes, and what the consequences will be.

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What I aim to end up with is a scene-by-scene break down of the whole book. I will try to put as much detail into it as I can so that I have as much resource as possible to refer back to. In the case of my current work in progress, this breakdown is also colour co-ordinated to highlight the storyline of my three main characters as they navigate their own plots before eventually merging into one story.

This particular plan is about twenty pages long, and is all hand-written.

Step 6: Get Writing!

“At last!” you may be thinking.

All of the above is designed to map out what I want to do and how I am going to do it. You would think this would make the actual writing a breeze.

(*Quietly sobs in the corner*) I wish! Even with all the prep and all the notes, there are still days when putting pen to paper (and I do tend to write initially by hand, even during NaNoWriMo) is about as productive as a watermill in a drought.

But that’s a topic for another day. I do have to keep reminding myself that I would be in a much worse position if I hadn’t prepared the way at all. And I know this to be true as I have tried to plough on without an outline before and, for me, it just doesn’t work.

So that’s it, right? Novel all planned out and writing under way. Nothing more to worry about.

I’m afraid not…

the-fact-is-i-dont-know-where-my-ideas-come-from-nor-does-any-writer-the-only-real-answer-is-to-quote-1.jpg

Step 7: Re-Planning

This is a step that I have added more recently to my writing process when I realised that the more I wrote, the further I was drifting from my plan. This is inevitable, I think. Characters tend to develop organically on the page and if you end up writing something that surprises you, and takes your story in a different direction, then so be it! If you are surprised by your writing, your readers will be too.

696295656-612x612After working for a while, jotting extra ideas and changes into the margins of my plan, I realised it was becoming illegible. So, the proverbial pause button was pressed, and back to the drawing board I went.

The plan I have come up with now still includes details of what I have already written (with several highlighted sections that I will eventually go back to and tweak or re-write entirely), but it only goes up to the next big event of the book, rather than running to the end.

Once I have written up to that event, the way forward will be clearer for the last section of the book and I will be able to block that out before continuing.

This is a process I think I will adopt for future projects: planning in chunks to compensate for my tendency to go off script.

597805a79c234f3be72ef16594b350fc--dipper-pines-cork-boardsSo, there we are. From sharing Professor Quirrell’s frustration at the Mirror of Erised to my own desired destination in seven not-so-easy steps.

I’ll be honest with you, it may look easy when it’s all set out in black and white like this, but I am sure every writer will agree (no matter what their process is) it is not as easy as it looks.

But it is definitely worth the effort.


For more about Characterisation and World Building:

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Update: Turning Ideas Into Words

So… This is the sum total of my creativity this week:

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As such, I have no new content to share this week. What I do have is an update on some re-arranging I have done around here.

For the past few months, I have been concentrating on posts dedicated to sharing thoughts and what I hope are useful tips on writing, specifically geared towards those writing in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres.

As the posts have built up, my menu above has begun to look a little cluttered, so I have divided the post into categories in the hopes that they will be a little easier to cope with.

Here’s a quick run down of what’s on the new menu:

The Writing Process

Every writer has a process and the first step to writing consistently is understanding your own. This section of Turning Ideas Into Words is dedicated to articles and tips focused on drawing out aspects of the writing process itself. A lot of this is based on my own process (such as it is and such as it develops). You may find yourself disagreeing with my approach. That’s fine. That just means your approach and your process are different.

What you’ll find here:

  • Creative Discipline
  • Overwriters -v- Underwriters
  • Great Opening Lines

Writing Process


The Planning Stages

The more I work on my first novel, the more I am realising the importance of planning! As much as we would like to think that every novel we have ever loved just sprang into the world fully formed, this just isn’t the case.

In this section, you will find articles designed to get you thinking about your own novel-in-the-making. There will also be insights into my own planning process and how this has helped to shape (and at times re-shape) the novel I am currently working on.

What you’ll find here:

  • Narrative Voices: Person and Tense
  • Narrative Voices: Knowledge and Character
  • World Building: Physical
  • World Building: Human
  • World Building: Extraordinary

05 Iceberg


Characters and Places

Part of planning your novel is building a world for your characters (this is covered in The Planning Stages). Here, you will find more details regarding the planning and developing of the characters who will drive your plot, and the places they will visit along the way.

This will include an opportunity to learn from my mistakes as I discuss an instance were I didn’t fully develop a character before putting pen to page (see Finding Jaecks).

What you’ll find here:

  • Character Development: AKA Finding Jaecks
  • Gateway Deaths

Characters and Places


As ever, I am keen to know your own insights and experiences of writing in all its forms and stages. Please do get in touch or write a Guest Post that can be featured on this site to share your thoughts.

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World Building: Extraordinary

32 World Building 3

Now, don’t tell me you’ve gone to all this trouble to make a world that is just the same as ours. Of course not! Right? Even if your fictional world is grounded in our reality, there will be something to set it apart (like a magical subculture – Neverwhere, Harry Potter, Skulduggery Pleasant)

As with my previous posts on the subject of world building, I am coming at this from the perspective of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer; so, having covered the physical and human elements of creating a fictional world, it’s time to turn our attention to something much more creative: the extraordinary element.

There is literally no limit to what this can be. This is where you get to ask the question “What if…” and then attempt to answer it yourself.

More than likely, this element of your world will be whatever has inspired your story in the first place. And it is likely going to be the device that you use to drive the plot forward (or at least be a contributing factor to that device).

HarryPotterSo, what is it in your world that makes it truly different from our own? Is it magic? Aliens? Great technological advancements (or regression)? Social or political change? Maybe a key event in history that has gone the other way?

Whatever plot gem has set your imagination buzzing, there are a couple of things you will need to keep in mind as you develop it into your world.

1: Make the Rules

If you’ve been building your world along the lines of my last couple of posts, you will have, by now, established a physical world and populated it. Whatever extraordinary element you envision, make sure it fits with the world you have created. For example, if your extraordinary element is to have a society run by vampires, they wouldn’t get very far in a world that is perpetually sunny (unless they happen to be brooding, shiny vampires; but let’s not open that can of worms just now).

RulesOf course, there is nothing to stop you from going back and tweaking your own world until everything works the way you want it to.

Just as our world has the Laws of Physics to keep it running smoothly, you may want to think about whether these laws still apply in your world. Stars may be something entirely different in your fantasy world. Or gravity may work in pockets and not elsewhere.

As long as it makes sense for your world and your story, you can establish any sort of rules you want, as long as they work towards the story you want to tell.

2: Stick to the Rules

This is the hard part. After all, rules are made to be broken, right?

WRONG!! In this instance, the rules are most definitely NOT there to be broken. If you make a rule for your world, you HAVE TO STICK TO IT! If you don’t, your readers will know. Instantly. And they will call you out on it.

And why is this? Because people like to be able to make sense of what they read. If you are throwing an entirely new world their way, they will very quickly latch on to any morsel of information you give them about it. If you then throw out the rule book for no good reason and change things around on every other page, your readers will get confused and frustrated and angry (probably in that order), and will eventually stop reading.

WHY

If you find you have written yourself into a corner and the only way out is to break one of the rules of your world, you pretty much have two options:

Option 1: Go back through your story so far and work out just how vital that particular rule is to the plot. Odds are it will be important, otherwise you wouldn’t have put it there in the first place. If you decide to change that rule to help your characters out of their current predicament, bear in mind you may have a lot of re-writing on your hands to fix other points in the plot where that rule has been followed already.

WriterPsychoOption 2: Kill someone. I mean in the story, of course, not in real life. That is generally frowned upon. But a character nobly sacrificing him/herself for the greater good is usually a sure-fire way to get out of most situations, while at the same time reminding your readers that no-one is safe (for more on this, have a look at my post on Gateway Deaths).

Of course, it may be simpler to just rethink that particular scene and see if there is a less drastic solution that can be found. As long as it follows the rules you have established.

3: Break the Rules – SPARINGLY!

Yes, I know! I have LITERALLY just said DON’T BREAK THE RULES ON PAIN OF CHARACTER-DEATH! I know, but hear me out, OK.

There are ways of breaking rules without actually breaking them. Think of it more like bending the rules.

To illustrate this, I am going to fall back on trusty old Stargate SG-1 (I’ve mentioned my love for this show, right? No? Well, now I have).

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The rules for opening a Stargate are quite simple:

1: It takes a combination of seven chevrons to establish a wormhole between worlds (six to confirm the location of the destination and one for the point of origin for a course to be plotted).

2: Matter (i.e. people, objects, etc.) can only travel in one direction through an open wormhole. If you open a wormhole from Earth, you will be able to travel through it to the other side, but you will have to break the connection and dial back in from off-world to get back again.

3: A wormhole can only stay open with nothing coming through it for approximately 38 minutes.

All three of these rules are engrained in the show, pretty much from day one, but in the course of ten seasons, each one of these rules is broken (bent really) at key points:

1: If you are trying to connect with a planet in another galaxy altogether, a combination of eight chevrons is needed, instead of seven (like needing an extra few digits to dial an international phone number). Of course, a massive amount of energy is needed for this, so don’t try it if you’re building a Stargate in your basement!

2: Even though Matter can only travel one way through a wormhole, radio signals and other types of energy waves can travel in either direction. This is pretty much taken as a given every time the team communicates with the base via radio through an open Stargate.

3: Thanks to the above rule twist, [SPOILERS FOR SEASON SIX IF ANYONE HASN’T SEEN THE SHOW!] Anubis is able to keep a wormhole connected to Earth for days on end and nearly blows it up in the process.

Each time one of these rules is bent, the established universe of SG-1 expands a little further and an extra layer of complexity is added. Not to mention the stakes are raised as a result.

WonderlandIf you are able to find ways to bend your own rules without breaking them (and without stepping into the realms of absurdity), then do it. Just keep in mind that it has to be believable. If you spend pages and pages trying to convince yourself and justify the twist, odds are that your readers will be fairly sceptical (and no-one wants that).

Your world with all its extraordinary and unique elements should, when all is said and done, make sense. That’s not to say that you have to stick to things that make sense in our world. Let’s face it, even Wonderland makes a sort of sense (if you look hard enough).

As long as you are clear and consistent in your world, you will be able to get away with all kinds of madness.

That is, after all, the joy of world building!

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World Building: Human

World Building 2

Last week, I started looking at world building in fiction. This may seem like an arduous task, but if you are a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer it is, to some extent, unavoidable. In last week’s post, I looked at the physical world, what will essentially be the foundation of your fictional creation, the places your characters will visit and travel through as part of your story. This week, we’re looking at the human world.

Who exactly do you envision will live in the world you have created? I am sure that by this stage you will have at least a handful of characters who will drive your plot, but they should not be the only people in your world. So, what is the general population like?

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to have detailed character profiles and backstories for thousands of nameless background characters, but there is quite a lot to be gained from giving the people(s) of your world a cultural grounding.

Here are a few jumping-off points for you to consider:

Climate/Landscape 

I touched on this last week when talking about building your physical world (don’t worry, I don’t have another forty different ways to describe rain), but it does bear re-iterating. Climate and landscape really can have an effect on a particular culture.

When my parents were preparing to move to Malawi in Africa a few years ago, they were introduced to the concept of ‘Hot Country Culture’ verses ‘Cold Country Culture’. As you may be able to guess, the UK is a Cold Country (not as cold as some, but still pretty chilly at certain times of the year). This cold climate is reflected in British culture.

Hot Cold

Typically, a Cold Country Culture identifies as being task oriented. We are very much driven by meeting deadlines. If we arrange to meet up with friends, a date and time will be set, and woe betide anyone who has the audacity to show up late! Of course, there are some people who are more laid back about this than others, but in general this is how we have been socially programmed.

A Hot Country Culture, on the other hand, like Malawi, is more relationally oriented. This means that dates and times don’t matter in quite the same way, and the emphasis is on a person’s relationship with others instead. In a Malawian meeting, for example, the first order of business is not to start the meeting on the stroke of whichever hour it has been arranged for, but to first greet each person gathered and find out how they are, how their families are, in much more detail than we would usually go into here in the UK.

At the church my parents attend just outside of Blantyre, they have a custom of everyone in the congregation shaking hands with everyone else at the end of the service. This leads to a great long processional line outside the church as everyone makes their way round and greets one another. At my church here in Newcastle, we may stay after the service for a cup of coffee and a chat, but at the back of our minds in the fact that lunchtime is approaching, and we need to be moving on to the next task in our day.

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These may be fairly simplified examples of this concept, and if you want to read up on studies that have been made of Hot and Cold County Cultures, have a look at the link below. Maybe you will find something there that resonates with you for your story.

History/Traditions 

Again, I am not expecting anyone to chronicle thousands of years’ worth of fictional history (unless you want to; you know, it could be fun), but having an understanding of a few key events and how they have shaped your fictional society is important. Certain events may have led to certain traditions or festivals that can be drawn upon within your narrative.

By way of example, in my current work-in-progress, The Green Stone In The Fire, there is a festival called the Feast of Candles. It is similar to Christmas and is celebrated in the middle of winter, at the darkest and coldest point in the year.

BlessingWhen the festival first developed, it was a celebration of peace and a time for the neighbouring kingdoms to join together for feasting and fun. However, thanks to Thane and certain events that I won’t go into here, the feast in latter years took on a more sombre tone, with people gathering together for mutual support and remembrance. This is when the Candles Eve Feast grew in prominence. Held the night before the main festivities began, the Candles Eve Feast was a time for families to say goodbye to their loved ones before they were taken as tribute to Thane. As part of the feast, the Blessing of the Candles developed – a ‘prayer’ that was either said or sung as the ceremonial candles were lit.

Now, the specifics of the Feast of Candles and the celebrations associated with it are not entirely relevant to the novel as a whole. They do not have any great bearing on the plot, other than to provide a backdrop for a few early events. But having worked out the details of this tradition, I better understand the people of Aurelia’s world (and Aurelia herself). It has also given me plenty of material to work into a prequel novella, and that is always a bonus!

Diversity 

We all know that variety is the spice of life, and more importantly that no culture on earth is entirely untouched by others. That, of course, means that the same should be true of any fictional culture you may dream up.

screen-shot-2014-03-28-at-6-50-05-pmAs you plan and flesh out the people of your world, bear in mind who their neighbours are. Do they get along with the surrounding tribes, kingdoms, or cities  countries? Have they ever gone to war with any of them? Has that left them irreparably changed?

How about ethnic diversity? Is this place a melting pot for several cultures, race of people groups to converge?

Quite simply, when it comes to diversity, the possibilities are limitless.

As I am talking mainly from a Sci-Fi/Fantasy perspective, there is also the added vestige of different magical beings or alien species that you may be thinking of adding in as well. Remember, each of them will have their own cultural background and identity that will need fleshing out as well!

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, keep in mind that there are plenty of sources that you can draw on.

Flags-Of-The-World-HD-Wallpaper-1024x508Every country on earth has its own culture and mythology that can be researched and used as a stepping off point for your own fictional worlds. Of course, this should be approached with a great deal of care and sensitivity, especially if the culture you are drawing on is not your own and is therefore unfamiliar to you. No matter how much research you do, it is always advisable to ask someone to read over your work, with an eye of cultural awareness to ensure that the references you have used are not misappropriated.

Having said this, I would not discourage anyone from exploring the cultural tapestry of our world for inspiration. After all, we have the most rich and diverse planet in the universe (that we know of, at least), and the more we understand it ourselves, the better. And the better our writing will be for it.

When establishing the culture(s) of your new world, keep in mind that at the end of the day, you want your world (and its people) to be believable and relatable in the eyes of your readers. Grounding your fictional culture in an existing one can go a long way to doing this; as can understanding how the landscape or history have shaped it.

As with any aspect of writing, you are really only limited by your imagination. Creating an entirely new culture for your world may just be the perfect opportunity to let your imagination.


For more information on Hot and Cold Climate Cultures:

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World Building: Physical

World Building 1

I am a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer and as such, world building comes with the territory. Even if the project I am working on is based in the real world, inevitably, there will be at least one element to set it apart.

z TEM Banner TNIt could be something simple like a mirror that takes you into parallel realities (why yes, that is my premise for The Eternity Mirrors, a shameless plug I know), or it could be as elaborate as creating an entirely new realm, planet, or galaxy for my characters to inhabit.

Whatever setting you may envisage for your story, you will want to make sure it is relatable and tangible for your readers. To do this, there are three elements that I would suggest you consider:

  • The Physical World
  • The Human World
  • The Extraordinary World

I’m not suggesting that you will have to have exhaustive notes and research on all of these for every story you come up with (I certainly don’t). It may be that a lot of the decision-making about your world is done unconsciously. But the whole point behind this series, Turning Ideas Into Words, is to get you thinking about your own process and finding what works for you. The more you can bring to the surface things that you would usually do without thinking out loud, the better equipped you will be for times when writing feels like an uphill struggle in concrete boots.

This week, I’m going to be focusing on the physical world-building.

The Physical World

This is going to be the blank canvas upon which everything else will take shape. If you plan on creating a world that bares little resemblance to our own, it is useful to start off with things that will ground everything else (no pun intended).

In the same breath, though, you can probably skip this bit if your story takes place in the real world. After all, you only have to look out of the window or Google a few exotic locations to get a handle on how our own world ‘works’.

But for an entirely fantastical world, you may want to take a few minutes to think things through.

Climate

bdt8-square-1536You may not think that the weather is the most riveting of subjects. But let’s not forget the importance of Pathetic Fallacy in literature. For those who have successfully repressed their GCSE coursework on Wuthering Heights, Pathetic Fallacy is the device wherein human emotions are attributed to nature or inanimate objects. It is usually applied in a specific scene to emphasise what the characters are feeling/experiencing. Think of the storm that rages the night that Cathy and Heathcliff row, and Heathcliff then takes off for a few years.

But more than just clouding things over when your characters are sad, the climate of your world may have an effect on your characters’ cultural identity as well.

Take me as an example. I am British. As such, I can tell you over forty different ways to describe rain. And that’s just off the top of my head, there are many others I haven’t thought of.

Don’t believe me? Check out the list at the end of this post…

Rain drops falling from a black umbrellaWhy do we Brits talk about rain so much? Because in Britain it rains. A LOT. And the English language has never been content to have just one word to cover a single phenomenon. There is one for every kind of rain you could possibly encounter.

My point is that if I lived in a dry climate (the Sahara desert, for instance), I may not have such a varied vocabulary or appreciation for rain (but I may be able to talk to you about forty different types of sand instead).

Geography

So, this was never my favourite subject at school, but having said that, your world’s landscape can have as much of an impact on your characters as the weather.

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One of the story ideas I have on the back burner at the moment is set across five planets (yes, that’s essentially five worlds to build for one project – why do I do this to myself?!) One of these five planets, Dana, is uninhabitable on the surface thanks to lots of toxic gases in the atmosphere. As a result, all of the living quarters and cities are dug into tunnels and in great big cavernous spaces below the planet’s surface. There is no natural sunlight on the planet, which means that there are no time zones on Dana (only DST – Dana Standard Time). The days are governed entirely by artificial light and are not dependent on where/when the sun rises and sets on the surface. As you may imagine, there are not a lot of tanned people on Dana (unless they happen to be rich enough to live on one of Dana’s lush moons and they simply commute to the planet each day for work).

By making just a few decisions about the planet’s climate and geography, the society on Dana is already significantly altered from one that is based on an Earth-like planet.

Once you have the groundwork of your world in place, there are a couple of other aspects you may want to consider as well:

  • Time Period/Setting: Just briefly, if you do stay Earth-bound, setting your story in the past or future will have a significant bearing on many other aspects: technology, speech patterns, clothing, education levels, religious/mythological heritage. A lot of these aspects will be looked at next time when I explore the human world that you may be building to inhabit the physical world, but do keep them in mind as you build your physical world.

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  • Maps: If you really want to go to town on this, why not draw up a map of your world. I’m sure you can think of a hundred different fantasy novels that include a map in the book’s cover. If your story includes an epic quest across a wide and varied landscape, a map can help readers to orient themselves as the characters move through the world.

As I mentioned above, you may not need to sit down and make copious notes about the world your story is based in, but odds are at some point, they will bleed into what you are writing.

If you are a Planner like me, working out the physical lay of your made-up land can help you to think about who would live in such a place. More on that next time.


Words/Phrases to describe and talk about Rain

Rain; Precipitation; Drizzle; Mizzle; Mist; Sea Fret; Haar; Monsoon; Deluge; Downpour; Bucketing down; Torrent; Shower; Sprinkle; Cloudburst; Flurry; Drencher; Squall; Tempest; Hurley burley; Scotch mist; Liquid sunshine; The Heavens opened; Raining cats and dogs; Raining sideways; Good weather for ducks; Dreich; Plothering; Spitting; Stotting; Stair rods; Hammering down; Tipping down; Lashing; Pelting; Pattering; Driving; Hoying it down; Spluttering; Coming down in sheets; Beating down; Drumming down; Peeing down; Pissing down.

You’re welcome, world!

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Review: The Savior’s Champion

TSC Review

Take the heroism and setting of classics such as Gladiator, Ben Hur, or Spartacus. Mix in the savagery, violence, and strong language of Game of Thrones (taken to the next level in terms of language). Top it off with a hint of magic and a healthy dose of romance.

And hey-presto! You have The Savior’s Champion, the second novel by Jenna Moreci (first in this series) that has been hyped to the hilt on YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads for the last few months.

Usually, I am sceptical when it comes to hype. I very much like to make up my own mind when it comes to what I read or watch. But the more I heard about the book’s plot and characters, the more interested I became.

For one thing, what’s not to love about a book featuring twenty young, fit, handsome men fighting to the death in a gladiatorial arena? If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, then there is the romantic element as well. And what better than a forbidden romance between a competitor fighting to stay alive and a palace healer who deplores the needless waste of life offered up in the tournament?

The Savior’s Champion takes place in Thessen, a Greco-Roman-esque realm that has been blessed with bountiful harvests and years of peace.

Literally blessed! By the Savior, a woman who possesses the magic of the gods, or some such, and whose reign ensures Thessen’s continued prosperity. The Savior’s power has been passed from mother to daughter for centuries, and the people of Thessen revere each successive Savior as they would a god.

As each Savior comes of age, Thessen’s priority is to find her a husband to ensure the powerful royal line is continued. To do this, the current Sovereign (the Savior’s father) traditionally holds a tournament, open for any man to enter, in which twenty are selected to compete for the Savior’s hand in marriage.

TobiasIn all of this, we meet Tobias – an artist, turned labourer who works tirelessly to provide for his mother and paraplegic  sister following the death of their father, who died in the same accident that crippled his sister.

Tobias has no desire whatsoever to enter the Sovereign’s Tournament. He does not want to marry the Savior (why would he? He’s never met her), and certainly doesn’t want to risk life and limb to do so. But when he is faced with the heart-breaking reality of his sister’s condition and the fact that the families of the competitors are gifted a substantial amount of gold from the onset of the tournament, Tobias’ choice is all but made for him and he enters.

And that just takes you to the end of Chapter Two! What follows is a tumultuous adventure that will, at times, leave you breathless, have you crying with laughter, squealing in horror, and cringing as various wounds are inflicted and described in vivid, juicy detail.

So let’s get into some specifics here.

The Drawback

This is more of a warning than an actual criticism of the book. There is a lot of strong language and violence, together with a fair peppering of graphically described sexual situations. If you are in any way squeamish or sensitive to that sort of thing, you may want to skip this one. I have heard other reviewers describe parts as “vulgar,” but I actually disagree with that. Where I would not usually gravitate towards books that are particularly graphic, its use in The Savior’s Champion serves to highlight the brutality inherent in Thessen itself and in the Sovereign’s Tournament.

And now on to the positives…

The Writing

First of all, The Savior’s Champion is very well written and diligently edited. Jenna’s style of writing is concise, fluent, and puts her ideas across in a tangible and visual manner. It does not take long before reading her work becomes effortless and the story takes over in your mind.

Where a lot of self-published authors may rush through the editing process in a bid to present their work to the public sooner, Jenna does not skimp at all when it comes to crafting her work into a polished and professional product. If you follow her YouTube channel, you’ll be aware that she puts so much care and attention into her editing process that it is possibly even more thorough than that which you would usually expect from a traditional publishing house (I may be wrong about this, but the effort Jenna puts in is stellar and it pays off in the standard of writing that she has achieved).

The Characters

EnzoThey are wonderful! I can pretty much guarantee that you will take Tobias to heart. He is not perfect by any means (he can be rather short-sighted at times, and doesn’t know when to shut up for his own good), but he is so driven by the desire to help others around him (including his fellow competitors) that you cannot help but root for him every step of the way.

The other competitors are also well fleshed-out and fully realised characters. They each have their own distinct voices and back stories that set them apart from one another. No doubt you will have your own favourites among them. For me, it is a toss-up between Enzo and Flynn (f*****g Flynn!)

LeilaAnd then there’s Leila – Tobias’ love interest. For Leila, Jenna has struck a very satisfying balance between strength and vulnerability. There is no question that Leila can hold her own in just about any situation she is presented with (and is in many ways better prepared than Tobias in that respect), but it clear that her toughness has developed as a necessity and she would much rather live in a world where she doesn’t have to be on her guard all the time.

The romance between Tobias and Leila is a timely oasis (for the reader and for the pair of them) amid the trials of the tournament. It is a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship, built on respect and understanding, and a desire to support one another no matter what. They are very much equals and it is clear why they are attracted to each other.

The Storyline

With such varied and well written characters, it is not surprising that the storyline is equally compelling. You will want to keep reading this book well past your bedtime! And once you have finished it, you’ll want the next instalment in your hands as soon as possible. Fortunately, Jenna is busily working away on the sequel, The Savior’s Sister. This will reportedly cover roughly the same time period as The Savior’s Champion, but from Leila’s perspective. Usually, I am not a fan of this kind of perspective switch. I much prefer to keep moving forward with the story. But seeing what Leila herself went through in The Savior’s Champion, I am keen to find out more of what was going on “behind the scenes,” and also looking forward to getting to know some of the palace staff a little better.

Court

The Verdict

If you haven’t guessed by now, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel/companion novel, The Savior’s Sister, when it is published.

It is an entirely entertaining and enthralling read from start to finish. In terms of who I would recommend this book to, I think it has a very wide appeal in terms of fantasy, adventure, and romance.

If you don’t mind a bit of blood and swearing, you should definitely check it out.


Where to buy The Savior’s Champion

Follow Jenna Moreci

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Gateway Deaths

29 Gateway Deaths

Let’s talk about death for a moment. Or more specifically fictional character deaths.

I do not consider myself to be a blood thirsty writer. I do not decide the fate of my characters by the roll of dice, or the toss of a coin (very few writer’s do, despite what you may think of us). If one of my characters is going to die, there will be a very good reason for it, even if that means breaking the reader’s heart.

But it does stand to reason that, somewhere along the way, there will be a character whose death opens the door to others. Anyone hooked on Game of Thrones at the moment will know exactly what I am talking about.

It may be the character you least expect to meet their end, but when they bite the dust, you are left with a strange mix of emotions (namely shock, denial, anger… basically all of the stages of grief at once), not least of which is an overriding sense of fear and dread that now no-one else in the book/series/film is safe. Essentially, if this character can be killed off in this way, anyone could be next.

These characters are what I call Gateway Deaths.

Here’s a few you may be familiar with:

Ned Stark – Game of Thrones

game-of-throne-season-7-spoiler-was-ned-stark-really-killed-988994-1520956230Let’s start with an obvious one. Poor old Ned, in the TV series at least, seemed to be doomed from the start purely thanks to the casting choice of having Sean Bean fill the role (the man who has spent the last twenty years or so dying on screen). In terms of Game of Thrones, Ned is by no means the first character in George R. R. Martin’s series to die, but his is by far the most shocking of the first season/book. As the Patriarch of House Stark and the Lord of Winterfell (not to mention recently appointed as Hand of the King), he seems to be such a vital and pivotal character that up until the point at which the axe is swung (literally) it seems unconscionable that he could die. His role in the series is so important up to that point that surely killing him will leave a void of chaos. This is, of course, exactly the point. Ned’s death is the start of a devastating domino effect that ultimately leads to the deaths of pretty much his entire family, then Joffrey’s death, and it informs and changes the course the entire series.

At the end of season seven (some six years on from his demise), we are still feeling the effects of his death. His Gateway Death was very much a flood gate that is still pouring into Westeros.

Cedric Diggory – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

10356392-8231-4a53-abf9-d4a2d465077bCedric’s was an important death, even if his character didn’t seem all that important at the time. He is only introduced into the Harry Potter series very briefly in book three (as captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team), and in terms of the films, he is only in Goblet of Fire. Up until Cedric, there had been no deaths among the Hogwarts students, and no deaths in general on the side of the heroes (excluding, of course, Lily and James Potter, and those who fought Voldemort prior to the first book’s first chapter).

Rowling deliberately heralded Voldemort’s return to the physical world in the middle book of her series and marked his return with a death. That blow was softened, slightly, by the fact that we had not had a chance to get to know Cedric in the same way as some of the other characters in the series up to that point. But his death opened the door to at least one beloved character dying in each subsequent book – Sirius Black in book 5, Dumbledore in book 6, and a whole lot more in the last installment. Cedric’s death helped to prepare Rowling’s young audience for what was to come, and I think we can all thank her for that much.

Rue – The Hunger Games

Rue_points_out_the_nestLet’s be honest. The Hunger Games is a brutal series, pitting children against each other in a fight to the death right from the get-go. Like Ned in Game of Thrones, Rue is not the first person to die in The Hunger Games. She is, however, the first character whose death we truly care about. For starters, she is one of the youngest tributes in any of the books and her death, among other things, brings a swift end to any notion of innocence that the reader may have been clinging to. There is no place for innocence in the Games, and Rue’s death makes that abundantly clear. Her death is a harsh and painful reminder of the world that Katniss exists in and fuels her determination to win the Games and subsequently to rebel against the Capitol.

There are plenty more characters that I could have touched upon here, and many more still that I’m sure all of you could list (please feel free to leave a comment with those). But I wanted to talk about a particular character that got me started on this rather morbid train of thought in the first place. Or more accurately, my reaction to this particular character’s death.

The Crimson Crown by Sarah Jayne Tanner

Question-markNow, unfortunately for you, this particular character is part of a project that has not been published (and as yet unfinished in fact). It is the latest creation by my best friend and fellow writer/blogger, Sarah Jayne Tanner. As well as being the first person to read this work and provide a critique of it so far, I have found myself growing extremely attached to several of the characters involved. I am not going to tell you which character dies, or when (I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you), but what I will say is that as far as Gateway Deaths go, this one hit me HARD!

One brief source of comfort I have found in all of this is the knowledge that Sarah seems to be as cut up about this character’s death as I am. She openly admitted to me that she almost went back and rewrote the scene so that he survived, but fortunately for the story overall, she had the presence of mind not to do this. This character’s death is important. It has opened the door to jeopardise the lives of every other character in the story. The death will be keenly felt by the other characters and it serves as a reminder of how dangerous their world is. It is Ned Stark, Cedric Diggory and Rue all rolled into one.

On a more general note, Sarah is not alone when it comes to writers feeling the loss of their own characters. J. K. Rowling reportedly cried over the death of Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I am sure she is not the first writer to do so.

sirius-black-death

My point in all of this is that however a character death may impact you as the reader, it will more than likely be felt tenfold by the writer. After all, they’re the ones who created them in the first place.

So why do we writers put ourselves through this kind of emotional trauma in the first place? Surely we are the ones in control of story and can therefore direct it away from killing off our own favourite characters if we so wish?

Well, no. I’m afraid it is not as simple as that. At the end of the day, the most important thing to any writer is the overall story. If a particular character’s death enhances that story, then I’m afraid that sacrifice has to be made. It may serve to highlight the main character’s own shortcomings, or it may spur them on to greater things (look at what happens to Katniss after Rue’s death in The Hunger Games); or it may be that someone’s death throws everyone else into chaos that has to be resolved in order for the remaining characters to progress (like Ned’s death in Game of Thrones).

tumblr_static_captain-jack-sparrow-captain-jack-sparrow-21245949-300-166Or it could simply be that this character was introduced purely to die at an opportune moment.

Whatever the circumstances are surrounding a character’s death, understand that if it made it into the final draft, it must be there for a damned good reason.

Even if that reason is just to make way for other characters to share in their fate.


If you want to see what Sarah has to say for herself in relation to Character Deaths, check out her blog post Death in Fiction.

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