Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Character Evolution

In discussing my series, The Prophecy War I am often asked, "Why didn't you such and such with this character?" In other words, how did I come up with the various characters' personalities, quirks and why do I kill them off when I do?

This series began as one book that kept growing. I started with a plan, or outline, for the story and after about four years, thought it was ready for publication. I dutifully submitted the work, was rejected, but got some excellent advice from the editor. He told me I needed to think bigger, as in a series. The editor also gave character development suggestions which, when I followed them, completely changed how I looked at developing characters. It also increased the amount of work involved.

At this point, all my characters were pretty much as I had planned them. Good guys stayed good, bad guys stayed bad, fence-sitters eventually came down on one side or the other. Although some may think that "anything goes" in fantasy, if a writer has that attitude, the work will most certainly fail. Character development is probably the most important aspect of any storyline. Readers want to put themselves into the live their lives if only through the pages of the work. Ultimately, what we are doing is telling human stories. So what human is totally good or totally evil? Religious figures aside, most of us have never actually met a perfectly bad or perfectly good person.

We all make journeys through life, change attitudes, sometimes reorder values, change behaviors. So why should our characters not make the same journey? As I stated in my previous post, I took this route to character development. I went back to the drawing board. While continuing to flesh out the storyline and expand into a multi-book series, I took detours based upon things about which a character reminisced and created that event in the character's life.

The result was that my characters continued to evolve in the main story, so much as to seemingly take on a life of their own independent of what I had planned. They get themselves into messes that I can't get them out of, or they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time...sort of like what happens to us in real life sometimes.

A prime example is Tal'Mar, a sorcerer seemingly on the side of evil for thousands of years. Yet, even when you first meet him, he is a likable villain. As the story develops, he reveals that certain key events in his long life have had a profound effect on his thinking and how he views the world.

Another character, Tylanna, a sorceress, started on the side of good, but became utterly evil through a path of self-destruction brought about by vanity and greed.

I won't discuss the deaths of characters here. You need to read the books. (Shameless plug.) I will say that I was roundly castigated by some of my proof-readers for killing of characters that they had come to like. In three of the cases, they didn't see it coming...the readers that is. Stupid bad luck for the characters, but that's life. In the end it's all about telling a compelling human story with all the ups and downs.