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Character Crafting Quandary

Guest Blogger: J.E. Lowder

In my third book, When Kings Clash, I encountered a snag when re-writing the prologue from omniscient narrator to third person limited viewpoint.

How do I introduce a new primary character without revealing his identity and background?

The obvious answer was to tell his story through the viewpoint of another person, but this too was a challenge. Books I and II are full of characters, so I had to make sure that a new voice was not only warranted but captivating.

In my noodling, I decided to take a people group I’d used previously, the Wurmlins, and develop them beyond what I’d established: nomadic tribe, hunt in groups of three, excellent trackers, ruthless thieves.

Character Creation

Illustration © adam121 • Fotolia

Now what?

Next, I needed a new character. Since my audience is YA, I opted for a thirteen-year-old boy I named Mälque.

How’d I come up with that name? I made sure I didn’t have too many other characters with the letter “M,” wanted it to be one syllable (I think short names sound strong and are easier for readers to grasp) and chose the umlaut because, well, it looked cool. Boring answer but there you have it.

But who is Mälque?

When I create a character, I have to visualize them first. I don’t use a character fact sheet (although I see the merit of doing this) but instead, mull over their psyche for quite some time. For me, this IS the nuts and bolts, the gumption, that drives them through the story. In other words, I’m more interested in my character’s home life than in his favorite color. In the case of Mälque, who is our example today, the fact that his mother was very superstitious had a huge impact on him. Although he denied her influence and even tried to navigate life by denouncing her beliefs, he was unable to pull away from her power as if by gravity. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Borrowing From Another

Around this time, I watched a spooky-good Indie film called Winter’s Bone, based upon the chilling book by Daniel Woodrell. In his novel, Woodrell captured the Ozark language and family dysfunction and made his characters jump off the page.

What if Mälque and the Wurmlins were similar? 

An image of Mälque popped into my mind…long, greasy, disheveled hair (perhaps in a mullet!) soot-covered face, hardened personality (to avoid getting hurt again), a survivor instinct whose weakness, which only the reader sees, is that he’s very vulnerable.

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

In regards to dialect, the rule of thumb is to infer it. For example, if your character is a Cajun, then you inform your readers he talks with this accent and let their imaginations do the rest.

I tossed this rule out the window. Why? The other rule of thumb in fantasy—and I would argue it trumps the dialect rule—is that you NEVER break the fantasy spell. So for me to let the readers know that Mälque talks with an Ozark accent would jettison them from the fantasy world. Besides, I was having way too much fun writing this way!

Next, I decided to give Mälque a key phrase, one he utters to reflect his cynical heart as well as to bolster his courage: “Ain’t nothin’ but dyin’ around here.” And like a chef using a strong spice, I used it sparingly so as to not overpower the story.

Proof Is In the Pudding

As I wrote and crafted Mälque, I became excited. My gut told me I was on to something; Mälque was taking on a life of his own. If you’ve ever experienced that as a writer, you know exactly what I mean. It’s WONDERFUL!

But would my readers like him?

The first test was my publisher, a former Green Beret, who is not one to shy away from brutal honesty. He too loved Mälque and felt he was a great addition.

So we published the book and I waited…

Although When Kings Clash has only been out a short time, the initial response for Mälque has been a big thumbs up. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but as a writer, it’s a great feeling to have your gut instinct confirmed.

I also received praises for another new character, Phinnton, as well as the Worms of Bal-Malin.

But that’s for another time!

j.e.lowder_1365153322_06J.E. Lowder is the author of the War of Whispers fantasy series. He’s also played bass for Shania Twain, which is the kind of thing that happens when one lives near Nashville. J.E. has also had a black rhino charge him while on safari and has visited the Oval Office. J.E. says, “The quote that sums me up the best is by G.K. Chesterton: ‘Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman.’” Find J.E. and his fantasy trilogy at jelowder.com.

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2 comments on “Character Crafting Quandary

  1. I love your remark about tossing the rule out the window. I much prefer principles to rules. Dialect can be tricky unless you grew up in place where it was part of you. I hail from the Deep South too, and certain dialects like your Ozark one do indeed appear in my WIP Jezebelle because that’s the truth of the way certain people speak and making them sound all Bah-stun would break the “spell.” Certain people just talk a certain way and you are 100% right, it only makes it more real. A Cajun will speak like a Cajun and it will make wondermus writing if you catch it right. My associate pastor was from Maine, and he actually did say things like “The cah is in the yad on the fam.” I went to great lengths to introduce him to the letter R. Sprinkling dialect like this rings true and accentuates the reality of the “spell.” As long as it is a sprinkle and not a flood. Your use of dialect sounds pretty perfect to me. Break all the rules you wish, you know what you’re doing. 🙂

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