Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Characterization: The Backbone of Good Fantasy

Fantasy novels share a lot of features. They deal with a simplistic "good vs. evil" world view; coming-of-age themes; and the power of friendship to triumph over great odds. This last bit is crucial, because more than any other genre, fantasy novels are about friendship. The best fantasies center around a core group of characters who team up to take on whatever evil is threatening the world, and it's how these characters interact that can make or break the book. Here are some guidelines that work for creating a memorable cast of characters for your next fantasy novel.

Everyone should have something distinct to offer. Fantasy is the only genre I can think of where more characters are better than fewer. Tolkien had his four hobbits instead of one; Robert Jordan had a veritable flock of female love interests and three (not one) small-town boys destined for great things; and Eddings had dozens of sorcerors, knights and thieves who drifted in and out of the core group. But even though you have a lot of room to go crazy and create as many characters as you can invent names for, you must find a way to make each one matter.

The core group in a good fantasy novel is bigger than the sum of its parts. Each character brings a crucial skill or outlook without which the group as a whole couldn't succeed. So whenever you create your characters, ask yourself: how will they work together? What unique skill or quality does each character bring to the table?

Internal conflicts and romances are key. Does one member of your core group hate another? How does their relationship grow or change over time? Is there a love triangle going on? How does that change the group dynamic? Adding internal conflicts and unions between characters adds texture and interest to your group, and gives you a fantastic opportunity to spin sub-plots. Instead of creating characters who are just there to do a job, let them gang up on each other, form alliances, and fall in love. Then let them slowly grow to trust one another over time. This will make your group a stronger cohesive unit in the end--and let you make your characters more three-dimensional.

In Fantasy, splitting up is a good thing. Want to develop your characters further? There should always be a time when the group splits up. This will allow your reader to get to know each character on a more individual level, and let you showcase each character's skills and personality in more detail.

Each character should have his own agenda. Why is each character in the group? If they're all there for the same purpose initially, it can be boring. Let one of your characters be out for revenge or justice; another for wealth and riches; and a third to win someone's heart. Give each a strong motivation that may put him at odds with the group occasionally--even though it causes them to work together most of the time. As your story develops, each character might come to the realization that they want the same thing. But again, let that grow--don't put it there from the beginning.

Fantasy novels are all about that core group of characters. If your group isn't well developed, your novel will flop. If it's strong and well-conceived--and if you use the novel to develop your characters as you advance the plot--you're more likely to write something memorable.

1 comment:

Minion said...

Can I just say, you've inspired me (again) to work on that children's book that's gathering dust in my brain!