Letting the Voice of Your Characters Come Through
By Karin Rita Gastreich, author of Eolyn and High Maga
Thanks so much, DelSheree, for having me as a guest on your blog! It’s really wonderful to be here again, and to be celebrating the release of my second novel.
I’ve been asked to write about letting the voices of my characters come through, especially when those characters are very different from me.
This is one of the toughest parts of writing. It goes far beyond grammar, syntax, story arc, and all the other technical rules that we learn from workshops and writers groups. Tapping into the deepest parts of human nature is a complex task that doesn’t conform well to any set of rules. Yet this piece of storytelling is absolutely critical. An author can have everything else perfectly in place, but if the characters are not authentic, distinct from each other and most of all from the author, the story falls flat.
Two pieces of information form the foundation of any character I build: history and motivation.
The history of a character determines to a large extent how they will respond to any given situation. What were they taught about themselves and the world as children? What have they learned from experience? What traumas have impacted their worldview? Has their life been marked by success, failure, or a mix of both? Deep inside, how capable do they really believe they are of achieving their dreams?
In addition to history, usually a single primary motivation will generate the specific actions of a character in any context. Examples of motivations might be the search for love, a thirst for revenge, loyalty to family or kingdom, liberation of the oppressed, or the quest for freedom.
In practice, motivation is one of the hardest things for me to clarify, especially with my minor characters. I wrote the entire draft of my first novel, Eolyn, without fully understanding the motivations of key characters such as Eolyn’s tutor Ghemena and the enigmatic Mage Corey. In the rewrites I came to understand them better as individuals, and that understanding led to much richer experience for my readers. Once a character’s motivation is identified, determining how they will respond to people and events around them is relatively straightforward.
One of the hardest characters I’ve ever written is the villain of High Maga, Prince Mechnes.
Mechnes is unlike anyone I know, and very unlike myself. He does things that are truly abhorrent and that were difficult for me as an author to let him do. But in understanding his history and motivation, I was able dig into his personality and paint him as a three-dimensional character.
Mechnes comes from a position of extraordinary privilege, having been born to a royal family in a misogynistic and rigidly stratified society. From the moment he was born, Mechnes was taught that royalty, and especially Syrnte royalty, are superior to the masses that serve them.
However, as the son of a second wife in an extended family riddled by vicious rivalries, Mechnes’s future was not guaranteed. So he dedicated himself to the arts of war and became one of the finest generals in the history of the Syrnte Empire.
Mechnes’ primary motivation? Self-gratification. Anything that contributes to his personal pleasure is the “right” thing to do. Mechnes lives to suck the marrow out of life, so many things give him pleasure, including conquest, domination, battles, violence, bloodshed, wealth, women, beauty, sex, and music, to name a few.
Any obstacle to his self-gratification is smashed out of existence without hesitation. This includes internal obstacles, such as a sense of compassion, which Mechnes does feel on occasion, though he invariably swipes that impulse away with renewed violence.
Mechnes was a force of nature to deal with in the writing of High Maga. There were scenes with him that literally made me ill. I would have to take a break from the novel for a week or more before I could get back into it. But Mechnes is also one of the characters who taught me the most about writing, precisely because he was so difficult to deal with.
I’m really curious to hear other writers’ experience with this. Have you written about characters very different from yourself? How did you tackle those characters? What did you need to know and do in order to make them real? Please share! I look forward to reading your comments.
Author: KARIN RITA GASTREICH
Publisher and imprint: HADLEY RILLE BOOKS
Publisher url: hrbpress.com
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-0-9892631-9-1
Cover price: $16.00 USD
Month and day of publication: April 4, 2014
Lands ravaged. Dreams destroyed. Demons let loose upon the earth.
War strikes at the heart of women’s magic in Moisehén. Eolyn’s fledgling community of magas is destroyed; its members killed, captured or scattered.
Devastated yet undaunted, Eolyn seeks to escape the occupied province and deliver to King Akmael a weapon that might secure their victory. But even a High Maga cannot survive this enemy alone. Aided by the enigmatic Mage Corey, Eolyn battles the darkest forces of the Underworld, only to discover she is a mere path to the magic that most ignites their hunger.
What can stop this tide of terror and vengeance?
The answer lies in Eolyn’s forgotten love, and in its power to engender seeds of renewed hope.
“War propels the book forward, and the characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst. . . . Fans of Gastreich’s previous work will want to catch this continuation of her story.” –Publishers Weekly
Get your copy today!
KARIN RITA GASTREICH lives in Kansas City and Costa Rica. An ecologist by vocation, her past times include camping, hiking, music, and flamenco dance. Karin's first novel, EOLYN, was nominated for the 2012 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. Her third novel, DAUGHTER OF AITHNE, is scheduled for release in 2015. Karin’s short stories have appeared in World Jumping, also from Hadley Rille Books, as well as in Zahir, Adventures for the Average Woman, and 69 Flavors of Paranoia. She is a recipient of the Spring 2011 Andrews Forest Writer’s Residency.
Follow Karin’s adventures into fantastic worlds, both real and imagined, at http://eolynchronicles.blogspot.com and at http://heroinesoffantasy.blogspot.com. For the latest updates on events and publications related to HIGH MAGA, join Eolyn on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Eolyn/110814625640244 and on Twitter @EolynChronicles.
Author web links:
Blog for Eolyn: http://eolynchronicles.blogspot.com
Blog Heroines of Fantasy: http://heroinesoffantasy.blogspot.com