Once again I have the great honour of being able to share with you another guest post from an amazing author. Todays post is all about the importance of character within a novel, and it really is an interesting read for both readers and writers alike, so take note. Richard (R.S Ford) is the author of Hangman’s Gate, the second book in a fantasy series, so be sure to check it out. Now into the post..
Everybody has a view on what’s the most important aspect of writing fantasy. For some it’s worldbuilding, for other it’s having a sweeping, epic plot, for others it’s innovative magic systems and/or fantastical races and creatures. For me it’s character. I write in a close third-person style, which relies on telling a story from different points of view. This in itself requires that you have a diverse and believable cast through which you tell the story. You can have as well-developed a background, with as many outlandish creatures, as you like, but unless you nail the characters it won’t be wholly believable for the reader.
This all relies on the writer inventing a diverse cast, with their own individual personalities and motivations. So as the story shifts from one perspective to another, how do you get into the minds of each of your characters? The simple answer is that they have to be well-rounded enough to tell their own story. Once you’ve created a character, the easiest way to test this is to put them in a random situation. If the character reacts organically, speaking with their own voice and making their own decisions without the writer having to force it, then you’ve done the job.
This search for living breathing protagonists can throw up challenges all its own. I plan my novels quite meticulously, and have a full chapter breakdown before I even begin to tackle the tricky process of thrashing out a first draft. This preplanning of plot becomes a problem when I need a protagonist to react in a way that’s contrary to their character. That’s when a decision has to be made to change the story itself, or find some way to motivate the character into acting against their better judgement. I’d like to think it works most of the time, but on occasion I’ve had to initiate ‘ruthless editor’ mode and work out how to alter an entire character arc for the good of the story.
But you have to be true to the character, and legitimacy is key here. Each character needs their own style, their own internal monologue, if you will. This is easy enough if you’re writing first person, but slightly more difficult if you’re writing tight third-person POV. Each different character requires their own way of speaking, a differing style of prose when writing their POVs, as well as unique dialogue. Granted these don’t always have to be ‘unique’ – different groups of characters will have a similar style. Warriors will share banter in a certain way, just as intellectuals, farmers or children will share a common mindset or patois. This can bring about its own difficulties, especially if you’re writing from the POV of a character very different to what you’re used to. But then, writers also have to be actors for the most part – they’re just portraying every role.
This leads us to the question of whether your characters are a part of you? And to a certain extent the answer is ‘yes’. As a writer you have to inhabit the character, no matter where you’ve drawn your influence. Saying that, influences come from everywhere, and oftentimes a character will be an amalgam of several different people you’ve met, or simply a collection of traits that have coalesced into a character in the author’s imagination.
In essence, the author is every character they portray and none of them. They’re pure invention and an amalgam of everyone the author has ever encountered at the same time. Put this minestrone of contradictions together, add in some conflict, and hopefully you’ve got a novel the reader can believe in, no matter how fantastical the tale.