I was such a fan of Janice Hardy's first book, THE SHIFTER that I interviewed her after its release last year. Now it's time for Book 2: BLUE FIRE, and I can't wait! As part of Janice's blog tour, here she is talking about characters.
Wanted: One Character Willing to Work With No Questions Asked
first, then find someone whose life I can make miserable.
Because of this, my characters rarely start a story fully developed. I usually only know the bare bones of their past, how they got to be where they are, what they like and dislike. The plot is the crucible I toss them into to get to know them. How they react to problems is what tells me what I need to know to write them.
As you can imagine, my characters start out kinda flat in that first draft. They talk a lot, act a lot, but don’t think all that much until I figure them out. Then their internalization starts pouring out of them
and I discover that past they were hiding, those fears they never told me they had, and those dreams they think about when they aren’t running for their lives.
In my MG fantasy trilogy, The Healing Wars, the protag’s best friend is a great example of a character who just developed on her own. Aylin had almost no background at all when she first appeared on the page in The Shifter. I knew Nya (my protag) needed a best friend who had a job that put her in contact with lots of people. So Nya first encounters Aylin on the street in front of…
And I needed a place. What job could Aylin hold in this fantasy world that would put her on the street
talking to people? I made her a barker at a show house, a tavern/theater/concert hall mix where the rich
frequented. She danced outside (so now I learned she was graceful) and called to folks passing by, trying
to get them to come inside and spend their money. (so now I knew she was a people person, and a bit of
And that was it for a while.
I didn’t need more than that for Aylin to play her sidekick role. But as I wrote her, she developed into
the voice of reason for Nya. (and I learned Aylin was practical). It wasn’t a conscious choice, I just had
a very impulsive Nya getting into trouble, and I needed someone to play the other side to show the
options and consequences of the plot. Purely mechanical really. Nya needed someone to talk to and
bounce ideas off of. That was Aylin. Since I didn’t want to sound preachy, she was supportive (usually) of Nya’s plans, even when she was worried about them. (and thus I learned Aylin was non-judgmental and loyal).
Although I was getting a good sense of who she was by now, I really didn’t know anything about her
past. She was an orphan like Nya, but I didn’t know how her parents died or if she even had any other
family. Eventually, I reached a part of the story where Nya needed someone to confront her about
something she was doing in the book (can’t say or it’ll be a spoiler). That reason had to be personal so it
didn’t come off as preachy on my part.
Enter Aylin’s past.
Nya was dealing with the pain merchants in this scene (black-market healers who buy pain from people),
so Aylin’s issue had to come from there. In my world building, I’d already established that the pain
merchants are notorious for healing someone, but not fully healing them, so it’s dangerous to go to
them. Aylin’s mother died by going to a pain merchant and not being fully healed. (and now I knew
Aylin hated the pain merchants, that she watched her mother die and couldn’t do anything to stop it).
But I also learned more from that small bit of history. Aylin is a happy person. She’s upbeat, optimistic,
always sees the good in people. How could she have that outlook after what had happened to her?
And so I learned how Aylin’s practicality encompassed her entire life, and how she did what she had to
do to survive, and didn’t let anyone—or anything—bring her down. This core element of her character
allowed me to know her and how she’d react to anything I threw out her.
By the end of the trilogy, Aylin is a fully-formed and developed character. She’s stayed true to herself all
along, but has grown and changed same as Nya and the other characters.
Quite an accomplishment for a gal who was nothing more than “Nya’s best friend” when I first created
Blue Fire Blurb
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers.
Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can
find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve
isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out
of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever
thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering
the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might
have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
Janice Hardy Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her
fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.
Link to Blue Fire Online Retailers
The Other Side of the Story Blog
Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Janice! I adore your blog and have literally printed out some of your plotting posts and scribbled all over them as I'm writing. (In a good way, lol)
Can't wait to check out Blue Fire!
Thanks for a great post Janice. I struggle with exactly this problem in my stories. And now I see that I probably start with some kind of problem or situation and then find characters who fit into it...which leaves them pretty flat, as you say, to start with. I didn't know this before about my writing, if you can believe it!
Great post. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who starts out struggling with flat characters.
What a great explanation of how to develop a secondary character throughout a series. I can't wait to read Blue Fire.
Aylin is one of my favorite characters in these books. It's interesting to see how you built her personality and remarkable that such a strong character didn't take over the story. Keeping charming secondary characters secondary is a struggle for me.
Wow. This is a fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing. I needed this right now, more than you know. :-)
Glad I could help. I really learn a lot about all my characters as I write them. Which is great for me, since I've never been good at planning them out beforehand. And they do bring a lot of extra depth to a story if we put them to work.
What a wonderful post, thank you for sharing this very interesting information. I really came by just to say hi and hello but, this is so informative I had to read the whole thing.
Have a great weekend!!
I love Aylin. I also develop my characters this way because I always think of the problem and the setting first.
It's funny, I put so much time into Nya, but Aylin is the one who has really grown a lot and become her own person "all on her own" so to speak.
Vonna, with my first book, my secondary characters took over, so I know what you mean. It helped me to focus on the protag's goal and not let my secondary characters get *too* much attention. When they started having ideas of their own that didn't help my protag, I knew they were overstepping.
Really interesting. It's so much fun to see how we all approach writing differently. Thanks for sharing!
I'm so pumped for this release! I LOVED the first one! Thanks for a great post.
Great post! I love seeing how she developed. I'm not much of one for writing lengthy character biographies in advance, so mine often gain all sorts of interesting traits along the way that then require revision. I find that organic character development works so much better with my stories--so interesting to see how yours is laid out here.
Thanks guys! I've always considered myself a planner and outliner, but the more of these posts I do the more I realize how much I also leave to develop over the course of the story. Makes me wonder if pantsers have an "outline" side to their process.
This is my first post anywhere, really, on writing sites...but the bug got me. I've always been a writer since I was a kid and always the stories and characters came from dreams I'd had. In my 20s, writing shifted to journal keeping and eventually I lost the urge to become the world's greatest novelist. In journal writing, I have a relaxed southern style.
I would love to return to the land of fiction writing but feel so stuck. I'm starting with reviewing authors of erotic fiction, looking to get my groove back, make new friends and build a whole new network. Friends welcome!
To stay on point, how it always worked for me is character almost always comes first. Someone will pop in my head inside a ready made scenario and, as a detective, I have to root out who it is, why they're there, what's going on.
One thing I have always been more inclined to do is write male characters (I'm female) and they open up easier for me that way. When I write female characters there's always a place where I wonder if I'm just channeling my own drama - unless the story is based on an actual life experience, then I can write a strong female that's almost nothing like me.
Is this normal?
Nikki, absolutely. Every writer has their own process (and their own fears), their own way of doing things. What works for one doesn't always work for another. I start with plot more times than not, but a lot of writers start with character. They speak to them and start telling them their stories and then it winds up on paper.
If that's how your stories come to you, embrace it and run with it. It sounds like reviewing books you like to read to get back into it is a good starting point. You'll be studying those books to see what works and what you like about them, which should give you a better sense of what you can do with your own stories.
When you feel you're ready, just dive in and write. You'll make mistakes, write scenes you feel are terrible, but that's also perfectly normal. Even I write terrible scenes from time to time still. It's in working through the bad that we find the good. As long as we keep trying to make our stories better we're heading in the right direction.
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