This is something of a problem that cropped up while working on my latest book. The book, entitled “The Children of Lubrochius,” is the first book in my series, “From the Ashes of Ruin.” If you’ve read “Drasmyr,” “Drasmyr” is essentially the prequel to the series (Yes, I wrote the prequel first.) Anyway, the problem is, or was, that I kept running into problems because I had too many characters. I had most of the characters from the first book, and several new ones. Obviously, I had to make some decisions. I had to separate the major characters from the minor characters and determine who would be shadowed in each section of each chapter. (By “shadowed,” I mean, which character’s point of view I tell that section by).
It has been called a weakness of my first book that I jumped around too much. I had sections where I shadowed Lucian, others where I shadowed Coragan, others Galladrin, Korina, Regecon, Clarissa, and still more. Although, many of those were just one or two scenes. The major characters were, of course, Coragan, Galladrin, and Regecon. The main antagonists were Lucian and Korina. It all made perfect sense to me while writing, but I can see how someone could be confused, at least, at first. Eventually, though, it all clicks into place and creates a remarkable story. And, I think, if I were to write it again, I would change very little. However, going forward, as I said, the next book adds a few more characters; so many, that if I were to continue in the same pattern, I’m sure I would lose many readers.
So, what did I do? I got out my writer’s chainsaw and did some hacking. J From the four major characters I added, I permitted only one to… uh… not sure how to say it: of the four, one is a major major character, and the other three are too important to be minor characters, but not important enough to get very many chapters told from their point of view. I dethroned two of my previous major major characters, putting them in roughly the same position as those previous three… this is getting confusing. Let’s just say, I juggled the characters around a bit so that I was more focused on which character would be shadowed the most, and which would not. As it stands now, I have again, three main protagonists (Coragan, Ambrisia, and Gaelan (he’s a new guy)) and the same two antagonists (Lucian and Korina). And again, there are a number of minor characters of varying level of importance.
What is the point of all this? Limit the number of your characters. Quite simple, really. But not. I have so much to say, and one character is insufficient. Plus, I like weaving multiple viewpoints together. It’s fun. But there is a limit as to how many you can effectively do that with. Again, this is another lesson learned the hard way: plan it out beforehand, you’ll be happier for it. Otherwise, you’ll have to rewrite scenes from one character’s point of view to another. And that is a royal pain.
Anyway, I think the traditional novel has but one main character. Many modern series’ though (Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” comes to mind) have many more… although perhaps in the case of WoT, Rand is the main character, but I digress. When you have multiple books through which to develop your characters, you can afford to have more than one major character. But again, keep in mind, that what is clear to you the writer, might not be so clear to the reader. Fifty main characters is definitely out of the question. Seven or so, like in WoT… it can be done, but there is a cost. There’s a reason that series is fourteen books long. And though I loved the series, I will probably never reread it.
I’m of the mind that characters are one of the constants of novels. I think it would be impossible to write a novel without having at least one character. If you were to write something without a character, you might be able to pass it off as a poem, perhaps, but certainly not a novel. An essay, maybe, or a dissertation, but not a novel. Also, realistically speaking, I don’t think you’d be able to limit yourself to just one character. You’d probably need at least one more. For what is a novel, but an exploration of human relationships and character development? How could one explore such without a selection of characters to delineate?
Since the above is true (or at least I regard it as true), it may be worthwhile to pound out a few thoughts on how novel characters come to be. What kind of effort goes into constructing one?
In the first draft of my first book, Drasmyr, I wrote everything stream-of-consciousness, revising as I went along. The characters only existed in my mind. I had a relatively small number, I was much younger with a more energetic brain (I think) so I could keep such things straight. I had no need for character description sheets, or anything of the sort. Nowadays, I’ve changed my approach. It’s kind of an approach-in-progress—because I’m constantly adding new things and tweaking things in a chaotic, disorganized way—but currently, I have notebook filled with character information sheets.
What’s in them, you ask? Well, start with the basics. First, you need a general description of the character. Height. Weight. Eye color. Hair color. Muscular? Thin? Etc… Keeping a good physical description in one place is a very good idea (I’m actually learning this the hard way, because I wrote the rough draft of book II before I wrote the character sheets—a silly mistake, but a painful one—but I intended to reread the thing a million times before I published it anyway), that way you can refer back to it whenever you need to and you don’t have to worry about making a mistake describing the character with blue eyes in one place, and brown in another, or what have you. That’s probably one of the simplest ways to save yourself some headaches. So, whenever you are writing and you introduce a new character, do yourself a favor and make up a character information sheet (unless that character is just a walk-on), put it a neatly organized folder for easy access later on.
Of course, characters are much more than their physical descriptions. They have personalities with conflicts and hang-ups and what have you. Their outlook on life changes as they progress through the story. All these things must be kept straight in order to tell a good story.
So, in order to flesh out the character, I include a section on the character’s history (birthplace, parent’s names, etc…), their clothing preferences (although that is hardly essential), their general personalities, and the crises, evolutions, or aspects of human nature I wish to explore while developing them. If the character is a religious fanatic, I include it here and try to explain why. If they hate goblins, well, what led to that bias? Recording changes in a character is probably the most important aspect of character development, but is also the hardest to convey in a single blog post. Characters evolve and change, they learn new things, they change their minds. That’s what the “development” in character development means.
Of course, this is very complicated particularly when there are multiple characters (I suddenly see the wisdom in limiting a novel to one main character—that definitely makes things easier). You have to track the changes and interactions. Generally, I do this on a separate sheet, in outline form only.
I’ve found that the easiest approach to character information sheets is to start each character on a fresh piece of paper. If you try to use the same piece of paper for multiple characters, you’re apt to run out of room. I’ve done this. I know. If they are separable, you can alphabetize (for easy reference) and also expand upon previous notes. You don’t have to write a character’s entire background the first time you use him or her, and you can always add additional sheets as you see fit.
Okay, I’ve blabbed about characters for quite a bit now. Time to end the post.
I stumbled upon this concept while traipsing across the Internet the other day. The blogger was talking (here’s the link) about vampires in Magic the Gathering and the like. She mentioned how vampirism, although it affects humans most commonly, can affect other species. She mentioned dragons as one such species. And that just gives me shivers.
Why, oh why, would you want to take two things as powerful as a dragon and a vampire, and combine them? I mean, I can’t imagine anything worse to fight short of a deity. I mean, a fire-breathing, spell-using, killing machine, plated with armor and possessing deadly claws and teeth. Then, you add the abilities of a vampire on top of that? A dragon that can only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart? I mean, seriously, how do you stake an armor plated dragon with a shaft of wood? Please, Mr. Dragon, remove the scaly hide that protects your heart so I can drive this flimsy shaft of wood in. Oh, and the dragon can become a cloud of mist; it can polymorph into a variety of forms… look at that tiny little bat. What do you mean, it’s not really a bat? (Of course, in some traditions dragons already have the ability to polymorph, or can even assume gaseous form)
I remember in AD&D there were these creatures called Dracoliches, which were a form of undead dragon. And as a lich was pretty much the most powerful undead, a Dracolich was one of the most powerful creatures you could encounter. We fought one or two in our day. Nasty critters. Reminds me of the days when all I ever rolled for saving throws was a 1 or a 2. Anyway, a dragon vampire would be pretty much about the same thing. Maybe not quite as powerful, but I certainly wouldn’t want to face one. In 2nd edition AD&D, vampires drained 2 levels with a touch. Could you imagine fighting a dragon that did that? With multiple attacks? Claw, claw, bite (and wing buffet, wing buffet, tail lash for complete measure). In one round, your 13th level butt-kicking warrior prince is reduced to a first level greenhorn. Next thing you know, you’re a snack.
I suppose the balancing factor would be the weaknesses. A dragon that is destroyed by sunlight or running water would have to be very careful. He wouldn’t have to worry about invitations, though. He could just destroy any building he couldn’t enter, so no one could hide in it. And, of course, there’s holy objects. It would be nice to have a powerful high priest around when facing a dragon vampire.
But the real mystery of the dragon vampire is: where did the first one come from? A normal vampire couldn’t kill a dragon (well, if you have level draining, maybe), so how did the first one come about? Was it just some crazy wizard doing foolish experiments? That seems the most plausible explanation to me. But you would have to be really crazy, and a little stupid, to dabble in that!