Friday, 6 January 2017


Here's an exercise for you.

Take a handful of main characters from your recent fantasy reads and think hard about how you would describe their personality.

For many of my favourite books I could wax lyrical about the main characters, but for many popular works of fantasy (some of which I enjoyed) I find that there is less to say.

The fact is that the genre loves a generican hero. For many main characters what we remember is what they did, not who they were. Our list of things to say about their character is often:

i) Brave/plucky
ii) Tries to do the right thing.

Writers like George RR Martin and Robin Hobb give us real people with deep and believable personalities. Others (and I'm not saying the books are bad) give us a two-legged vehicle designed to exercise the plot and into whose shoes we can imagine ourselves.

 And of course the danger in writing strong characters with clearly defined personality traits and personal histories that steer their course is that the reader finds themself reading about the character rather than seeing the world through their eyes and sharing their experiences on a deeper level. But that's the catch 22. If the character is a blank ... whose experiences are you sharing ... and what's deep about it?

The art is to write real and uniquely interesting characters but to bring to the fore enough of their common humanity that the reader can bond with them, care about them, laugh, suffer, and fear with them. And that's a hard art to master.


  1. I think if a character is too well defined, it leaves out certain degrees of spontaneity and growth potential. Not well defined enough and they lack realism. I always thought Robert Jordan did a great job striking that particular balance.

  2. You might know something about this ;) but when you create a character that is very unique and very human, some readers may become offended because they don't "agree" with what the character is doing, without really stopping to question what would make such a character act that way. I think this is what makes the generic hero so appealing to write about...chances are people are going to describe that hero as "likable", if not particularly memorable. It's easy.

    Having said that, I think that the brave and compassionate hero can become interesting, too. I've found that it's little harder to write these guys than characters who are all spit and fire, but I think if the writer is aware that "courage" and "compassion" are actions, not "traits", then you can create a situation where the character struggle to do the right thing. Putting such characters in situations where the "right thing" isn't always clear is kind of delicious, actually. I've done this and my readers get a little confused about who to root for. :P

    In the end, it's all about being true to the story and creating characters who can honestly respond to the various situations they find themselves in. And that's the best part about this genre...that these "situations" can be as death-defying as facing a fire-breathing dragon or an army of undead. :D