It isn’t possible to do this for every single character, but the ones who are really important are owed a tangible existence by the author. Characters with no depth may appear to readers as one or two dimensional, and this should only apply to incidental characters who may only appear once or very occasionally. I have read an awful lot of books in which many, if not all of the characters, are nothing more than words on the pages they are written on. Stories are nothing unless they come alive in the mind and stand out with a firm existence on those pages.
It’s no good for an author to introduce their characters simply by name and the words that come out of their mouths; I want to know what they look like, what their body language suggests about them, and I want them to have individual personalities.
There are a few people who have read something of my writing already who have told me that many of my characters represent different sides of my own personality. This is undoubtedly true. Authors who truly care about their writing and their characters will inject some measure of their own life experiences and emotions, and also the experiences and emotions of those they know.
If you’re one of those readers who really engages with a story and its characters on a personal and emotional level, I hope that there will be at least one character of mine that you might relate to. For the record, a few of the aspects of me that display my values, emotions and desires in relation to my characters that have been mentioned by friends who know me well are:
· The desire for order and respect
· The desire to be free
· The carefree, jovial side
· The aloof, brooding and vengeful side
· The desire for justice
· The part that wishes for balance, and a peaceful existence
· The part that harbours deep pain and sorrow.
I find it interesting that I have listed seven, but this is by no means all of them. The point I am trying to make here is that as a reader, I am so often perplexed by the lack of empathy from some authors, and I want to express my desire to bring my characters to life. I can’t promise that every reader will think of my characters as three-dimensional, but I can dream, and hope that many still will. One of my favourite quotes is from the poet, Robert Frost; “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Not every story is going to touch every reader in the same way, but the effort should always be noticeable. Characters should have a very strong, tangible presence on the page, or they will fail to touch hearts and minds, and nobody will be able to see them as anything more than a name.
Any author worth their salt will implement consequences or some form of penalty for characters who use magic. You cannot walk, or run, or swim without expending energy, and likewise you cannot think, or perform any sort of mental activity without doing the same. Nevertheless, some characters may be more adept at using magic and have greater endurance than others, and this can be reflected in racial traits, and/or experience and talent.
I’ve seen floating continents or islands in many fantasy worlds, but few of them ever explain what actually keeps them aloft. If anyone ever says “well it’s magic”, you have my permission to shoot them – with as sarcastic a comment as you can think of. What, pray tell, is controlling that magic? Is there a natural disturbance in the atmosphere? If so, what caused it? Did some ancient magician use a powerful spell to lift it into the air? If so, how has it remained aloft for centuries or millennia if said magician is long dead?
No fantasy world is believable if it has a magic system that the author cannot explain. It might be asking too much of an author to explain every single detail, but they should be able to tell you, during the course of their stories, enough so that it at least makes logical sense. Physics may work differently in a world that is not Earth, so if you have more than one moon in the sky, the author should be prepared to explain that one as well if the ocean tides are no different to that of our own world.
There must always pros and cons, for without them there is little to no clarity. Even the most supremely powerful being needs some form of weakness to make them believable, even though to the rest of the world it might seem as though they have none. There ought to be some penalties somewhere along the line.
For example, in the world of Aeldynn, the Drahknyr are built for combat both on the ground and in the air, and they are able to fight for many hours, but having them fly a long distance while travelling has more of an effect on their energy levels. I’m not going to explain my magic system to you here, because I’d like you to read my book(s), but I will let you know that mine is a system that I’ve been working on for many years now, and it follows a number of principles, two of which are personal and racial aptitudes in the use of magic.
This has just been a short piece to explain my stance on how I believe the use of magic in fantasy worlds needs to be explainable in order for readers to make sense of it. Speculation can only be taken so far after all. I hope you find it useful.
How often have you read a book that involves topics you’re passionate about? I am not referring to genre, but rather themes and subjects that may be involved. You may have a particular interest in ancient history and mythology, or modern warfare, or in this case, the age of sail.
I have a penchant for wanting to be as accurate as I possibly can be, even with fantasy. If there’s no way an author can explain how his/her world works scientifically or magically, then they may lose their clarity and integrity. My own world typically has a 17th-18th century setting, but also merges with and links to medieval and ancient times, and so I endeavour to research words and inventions linked to those eras. There is always wiggle room in fantasy and science fiction, but whatever you write has to make sense.
If you want to tweak any aspect of a subject for your writing, you need to know enough for those changes to function in your world/story. In historical fiction based here on Earth, there’s no excuse for mistakes. You really need to know your history inside out. In fantasy and science fiction, however, an explanation is necessary. Altering something for your own amusement isn’t the way to go unless you’re intending on writing parodies, which would also need to be made clear. One author I’ve read the work of stated he made changes for his own personal amusement. By all means change something for your own amusement if you’re writing solely for yourself and not for a wider audience, but avoid it in your writing unless you can explain your changes so that readers will understand.
As we get down to discussing all things nautical, do you know how long it takes to sail from the United Kingdom to the Caribbean? Let’s be pedantic and say that your vessel can only set sail if she actually has sails. Modern cruise ships, I’m sorry to say, cannot sail because they have no sails. So what’s the answer? Don’t know? Well, if you average at around 10 knots from the moment you depart Cardiff, you might get there in about two weeks; three weeks if you’re doing 7 knots. That’s assuming your characters are on board a 17th century sailing ship and the wind is favourable from start to finish – which is unlikely unless or until you’re hitting prevailing winds in the right direction.
If you have an idea of how far your characters will be sailing, try using this fantastic website I came across – www.sea-distances.org. I had a fair idea of short distances from having sailed on tall ships in real life, such as Cardiff to Southampton. Without stopping off at a port and with the wind solely in the ship’s favour, that can take about two or three days.
And what about nautical terminology and how sailors generally behaved? Bear in mind that the majority of your readers probably aren’t going to be seafarers, they probably aren’t going to understand what you’re talking about when a ship is preparing to lie-to unless you’re going to explain what that means. The same goes for a tacking order such as, “helm’s a’lee! Ready about!” They mean nothing if you aren’t familiar with the jargon and aren’t given an explanation. Have a look for the Haynes manual on HMS Victory by Peter Goodwin to find out about how to sail an 18th century man-o-war, the Sailor’s Word Book by W. H. Smyth, and Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities by Terry Breverton. For information specifically about piracy, I recommend Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly, and The Sea Rover’s Practice by Benerson Little. You’d be surprised at just how much information there is to take on board out there – pardon the pun.
Speaking of puns, and of course phrases, you might want to look up where every day idioms originated. You’ll find a lot of them, such as: three sheets to the wind, showing one’s true colours, and no room to swing a cat, are nautical in origin. And don’t forget the kind of language that was generally spoken by sailors back in the day, and how they sang shanties both at work and at leisure to keep up morale. They tended to use a lot of profanity, and accents/dialects varied considering they all came from a variety of countries, regions and backgrounds. Pirates did not typically wander around shouting “arrrrrgh!” either, though some of them, such as Edward Teach (or Thatch – better known as Blackbeard), were born in the south-west of England, meaning their accent/dialect would sound like your stereotypical pirate.
Don’t, however, be too concerned if your characters have motives or back stories that might seem a little clichéd; the last thing you want to do is change who your character is just because a handful of people might groan and roll their eyes. You won’t be able to please everybody. So, if you have a pirate who’s descended from nobility and has a penchant for being a ladies’ man like I do, don’t worry about it. However, you should be aware of both truths and myths, and apply them to any one individual’s personal circumstances, and build their personalities on that basis.
Ultimately, you must write what works for you, but realism and familiarity are needed for your readers to make the right connections. Research on any given topic is key for authors, and I hope that I’ve been able to shed some light on all things nautical, and how you might further your own research. If you should make any changes to how something works, be prepared to explain how and why it works the way it does so your readers can understand.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”
Sometimes it might be hard to tell which characters fit into these categories – especially if you have a large cast like I do. I’m a deep thinker, so I think about this sort of thing a lot. Villains are usually antagonists (occasionally a villain might happen to be a protagonist though it’s rare), but there are also antagonists who are not necessarily villains. Even some anti-heroes could be considered fit the role of an antagonist, particularly if they are a rival to a more altruistic kind of hero who may or may not be the protagonist. While all three of these terms can be linked, each has a slightly different definition:
Antagonist – a character who is in opposition to someone or something; an adversary; usually to the protagonist.
Anti-Hero/Heroine – a leading character who lacks the usual qualities of a hero (for example: altruism/fortitude/morality/idealism).
Villain – a character who is evil and thrives on malice/wickedness in order to achieve their goal(s).
If we take the typical approach of the ‘good guy’ is the protagonist we’re expected to favour him/her, and hope and expect that he or she will ultimately prevail. I always find myself asking questions related to the antagonist(s), however, such as: what are the reasons for their behaviour? Has something happened to them in their past to make them behave this way? Is this character malicious for a reason? Why do the ‘good guys’ rarely (if ever) wonder what those reasons might be?
Don’t get me wrong, some stories do consider such details from the ‘good guy’s’ point of view, but I find they all too often don’t. Whether it’s in the form of a book, a video-game, an anime or perhaps a film, I feel much more connected if I’m able to see things from the antagonist’s point of view. If a villain does evil deeds merely for the sake of it, then I can’t help but see them as one dimensional.
Most if not all writers use their writing to express their true feelings, and I’m no exception. I wouldn’t want to be. It’s a part of who we are, and admittedly I find myself frequently relating to a lot of characters that bear the mark of the antagonist, anti-hero or villain. If I should find out that there is a very good reason for the antagonist or villain’s behaviour and can relate to it, I actually tend to find myself taking their side over ‘the good guys’.
It’s no different when you have the ‘good guys’ embarking on a quest that turns into a mission to save (for argument’s sake) humanity, without them giving much of a thought to why certain antagonists and villains behave the way do. Too often they’re hell bent on stopping the villain without pausing to consider their adversary’s reasons.
Alright, some villains are just plain evil through and through and all they care about is getting their own way, but there are still many who are driven toward such actions; all via negative and often devastating personal experiences. It all depends on who we want our readers to love, and those we want them to hate with a passion. That goes for any of our characters of course, but as for the focus of this topic, the most obvious way to consider loving or hating these kinds of characters is to think about whether they’re one dimensional or multi-dimensional. Those who are focused on their own selfish gain are the characters we should love to hate, and it’s the multi-dimensional ones who should be making us wonder. Who knows, we may even relate to them in some way.
I have often heard it said that immortal and incredibly powerful characters have no real place in fantasy and science fiction because of what they are capable of. It apparently makes them uninteresting. Perhaps in the past this has been said because it hasn’t been done very well, or perhaps because an author hasn’t written the experiences and emotions of such characters adequately. If you’re one of those people who avoids books involving supremely powerful beings, you may initially feel you’d rather avoid the kind of material I write. I’d like to ask you to indulge me for a moment. Stop reading if you so wish, but I urge you to continue.
Have you ever asked yourself what it might be like to be immortal? Many of you will have an understanding of the immortality of Tolkien’s elves, but they’re still capable of dying. I have elves and other races that have this kind of life as well, but there are also beings in the world of Aeldynn who are truly immortal. Should they become so gravely wounded that death is inevitable, pay attention and know that’s not the end. No matter the severity of their wounds, they will always regenerate, though this does not occur instantly. Can you fathom that kind of existence, whereby your only chance at respite is to enter a long period of sleep?
These characters had a childhood. They were born into a physical existence for a grand purpose, and despite their spiritual supremacy and energy levels, they still experience hunger and the need for regular sleep. They also have emotions and life experiences. They’re not soulless golems. If you will, imagine the toil and heartache of what they must go through.
Authors should always consider these things when writing about immortal characters. If they don’t, they’ll end up with the boring kind of everlasting beings who lack personality and integrity, the kind people don’t want to read about. They can be good, or evil, or neutral, but never should anyone forget to give them individual back stories that tells readers who they are, why they exist, and for what purpose. Beyond mundane normality, there are always greater powers at work that even the most accomplished of heroes or villains will fail to understand. There is always potential for the powerful and the immortal to have a place in a fantasy or science fiction setting, so long as they are given as much consideration as any other major character or race.
As an avid reader of fantasy (and also as a writer), I’ve seen comments like this pop up every now and again, and they have a tendency to raise my hackles. Why is that, you might wonder?
Well, if you’re basing your fantasy fiction on factual events and inventions that have taken place on our own planet Earth, then anyone can criticise an author for any noticeable inaccuracies. That’s all fair and square, but for the most part we’re talking about FANTASY. Whether or not the worlds we write about are feasible and probable somewhere in the universe where physics might work differently doesn’t matter; what matters is that we as authors have invented them whether they’re purely from our imaginations or possibly ancestral memory.
So here’s the crunch; we’re talking about different worlds entirely, or perhaps parallel/alternate universes. Steam engines might have been invented two hundred years before the 1800s in another universe or alternate timeline! Or, if you’ve ever watched the TV series Fringe, you’ll know about another method of transport that took off (pardon the pun) in the alternate universe but failed in ours.
For an entirely different world based on perhaps the 12th century or even the 17th century, you’re definitely going to need to do a lot of research and keep things as much within historical context as possible (so a 12th century setting with fighter jets probably isn’t going to work), but you actually do have room to tweak a great number of things in whatever way you choose. So, if you want to have cities with perfectly clean streets, you can if you’ve got a means to describe exactly why it’s like that, because in the 12th century on Earth, most streets would be packed full of horse manure, human waste, and rats laden with disease.
However, some of these critics just don’t pick up on the “it’s set in an entirely different world and therefore doesn’t have to follow Earth’s history to the letter” fact. An author may think it’s a different world and doesn’t warrant any explanation, and they might be right to some degree, but by explaining it you’re at least covering your own backside and ignorant critics won’t have a leg to stand on.