It's now August 2, so the giveaway draw has closed, the "sorting hat" has sorted and the results are:
The Heir of Night ARE (US/Canada Posters Only):
Thornspell (Signed Copies) (International)
Please contact me on email@example.com with your postal address so I can get the books to you.
Thank you again to everyone, for participating and see you back here again next month--or you can come visit me at Helen Lowe on Anything, Really any time you like.
Last month, when I blogged about why I love Fantasy, I talked about possibility and wonder, the excitement of new ways of looking at the world, and the flexibility to play with those possibilities. I also talked about world building—but what Nicholas Johnson said in his comment also resonated with me, both as a reader and a writer:
“For me, it's the characters that make fantasy great. People who have all of the normal challenges and problems of just being human, but then have the additional challenges that come about from the world they live in.”
I love world building, and in some cases I believe the world itself can be so vividly realized that it becomes a “character” in its own right. This is certainly true of both China Mieville's overlapping cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma in The City & The City and Catherynne M Valente’s Palimpsest (both of which are finalists in the Best Novel category of this year’s Hugo Awards.) Ursula Le Guin’s Winter (in The Left Hand of Darkness), and PC Hodgell’s thieves’ city of Tai-tastigon are all examples of worlds that aspire to the status of character in their own right.
But New Zealand Maori, the indigenous first people of this country, have a whakatauki or proverb:
“He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!”
For me, this is very true of reading and writing fiction, although I would substitute “characters” for “people”, as not all great characters in Fantasy-SciFi are people: e.g. the ent, Treebeard, in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; the dragon Morkeleb in Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane; or the daemon Pantalaimon in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.
As a reader, the characters are almost always what makes the difference between my liking a book and loving it. I enjoy interesting and quirky ideas, and worlds that stretch my imagination, but if I don’t care about the characters, then it’s very hard to really care about the book. Whether I love them or hate them, I want to be engaged by the characters. I want to laugh and cry with them through the action of the book, to hold by breath when scary stuff is happening, and breath a sigh of relief when the protagonist wins through—or feel devastated when that's not the case, e.g. with Ned Stark in GRR Martin’s A Game of Thrones or Roger at the end of The Golden Compass. (I apologize if these are spoilers for some blog readers, but hope these books have been around long enough that this is not the case.)
But I’m also a writer and creating character is an essential part of the process. I still want to be engaged by them—after all, if I’m the author and not engaged by my characters, then it’s unlikely anyone else will be!—but not necessarily to like them. And sometimes, it’s when someone tells you that they don’t like a character that you think: “A-ha, my work here is done!” This happened with my novel due out in October, The Heir of Night, when an early reader said: “… but I just hate the Earl of Night. He’s such an anal retentive @#%*$&!.” He couldn’t quite understand why I immediately punched the air, but in fact I was over the moon, because I had worked really hard on that particular character and the reader’s response was exactly right.
And sometimes it is the characters you have to work hardest on that are the most rewarding—not because they are likeable necessarily, but because they are human. So the Earl of Night is an anal retentive @#%*$&!, but that is not all he is. Working to achieve that fine shading as the story unfolds is very rewarding for me as a writer.
Yet writing character can also (I imagine, since I’ve never actually done it myself) be a little like quarrying for gemstones. Some characters you have to chip away at patiently until the shape of the personality reveals itself; with others it’s just a single tap and the perfect jewel falls into your hand. The character of Sigismund, the prince in Thornspell, was like that. (As you may recall from last month, Thornspell is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the prince.) One moment I was sitting in a darkened theater watching the ballet of Sleeping Beauty—the next I was bolt upright in my seat, thinking: “What about the prince? What’s his story?” In that moment, the character of Sigismund was just there.
I had a similar experience with a character in the Heir of Night, as well. She was just a minor character, until the moment I changed her name—when she suddenly put her hands on her hips, stepped forward, and said: “I’m here and I’m important. So you’d better listen up and pay attention!” The character’s new name was Asantir and she is an important part of the Heir story—but you will have to decide for yourselves whether I was right to listen up and pay attention. [Grins.]
Where do characters come from? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Some, like Sigismund and Asantir, seem to spring fully formed from the air. Others, like the Earl of Night, evolve through the telling of the story and with much patient and delicate chipping away from the author. But in the end, however they arrive, each character has to be real and alive once they step onto the page. They all have to have their backstory and reasons for being who they are, even if it is not important to the telling of this story. Even bit characters, I believe, have to be important to themselves; otherwise they won’t be real enough to keep a reader absorbed in the world on the page.
That’s what I think, anyway.
But what about you? Is it the characters that make or break a story for you? Do you have any all-time favorite characters—and why? (And remember, this is Fantasy-SciFi, so they don’t have to be people.) Or is your best loved character really a place or a world?
And Yes: there are give-aways! My editor, Kate Nintzel, is putting up another two AREs of The Heir of Night (but for USA/Canada readers only, I’m sorry) and once again, I’m also adding in two signed copies of Thornspell for readers anywhere in the world.
You can earn points (i.e. the number of times your name goes into the draw) by:
+1 Posting in the comments section
+1 Linking to this post on Twitter
+1 Linking to this post on Facebook
+1 Linking to the Supernatural Underground blog on your own blog/website
Just post the total number of points that you’ve earned in your comment (and say whether you’re from the USA/Canada for the Heir AREs. You name will be entered in the draw again for every point you earn. Eligibility will close at midnight today, July 1, EST. (Do remember to check back, or to post your email with your comment so that I can get in touch.)
And as for last month, if you visit me on my blog: Helen Lowe on Anything, Really you can also go in the draw to win one of two further copies of Thornspell, once again for readers anywhere in the world.