Today I have something special for you guys.
As most of you know, I really like using Twitter. It is a perfect tool to get in touch with all sorts of interesting people. Using Twitter, I got in touch with fellow writer Andi Judy, who runs a blog containing all sorts of interesting writer’s advice, with the occasional personal piece. Because I really enjoy reading her blog and Twitter feed, and because she also likes fantasy, I asked her to do a guest post, to which she happily agreed.
So please enjoy this piece about writing multiple characters in epic fantasy stories!
Epic fantasy is what really got me into reading and was what I first started writing. I dove through fantasy novels, checking out almost every single one in our library at school, and planning out my own trilogy series.
But one issue I have had over and over with epic fantasy series is characters. Characters seem to fall out of the sky and by the end of the second chapter I have 16 characters and no idea who anyone is. Maybe it’s just me, but I need time to figure out who the character is, what they want, etc. so that I remember them. There needs to be something about them that makes me remember, ‘Oh, yes! That’s the one who’s an archer and betrayed the king’ as opposed to ‘Now…was that the one with the bow or the magic? Wait…who is that?’
Having a lot of characters is not a bad thing. It can be done very well, with each character having a distinct identity so that I know who they all are and care about each of them. But it can also be done very poorly where I don’t know who the characters are, and, honestly, don’t care about any of them. That’s usually the moment I put the book down and find something else to occupy myself with.
How can you keep your characters from becoming a muddled mess? Well, for one, have strong characters. Don’t (like I did the first time I wrote a fantasy story) throw in a character for the sole purpose of killing them later. The reader will know that you haven’t put a lot of time into that character and their death won’t serve as the shock you’d planned on.
Another very, very simple way to help your reader keep their characters straight is with their names. I know, ridiculously simple, but if I’m reading about ‘Mary and Maryl’ wandering the city… I’m going to get a bit confused with their names. Now, maybe you can still make them distinctive enough as characters, but do you really want to take a chance of confusing the reader? Why not Mary and Baryl? Similar sounds still, but at the very first letter I know which character I’m reading about. Readers can be lazy, make it easy for them. I try to have all of my characters’ names start with a different letter so that at any moment, the reader knows who I’m talking about by the first letter of their name.
Third, be careful with nicknames. If your hero is called ‘Hammer’ by his army, that’s great, if he’s called Hammer by one character in one scene with no solid connection…that’s not so good. If he’s called ‘Hammer’ by his army ‘Blade’ by his friends and ‘Prince’ by his followers…. that’s very bad and very confusing for a reader. Try to stick with one name per character. Shorten names, give them nicknames, do whatever, but make sure that it’s clear who that nickname belongs to when its used.
And that’s the best, most simple advice I can think of when it comes to helping keep your characters from blurring together to readers. What else can you all think of?
For more excellent writing advice, visit Andi’s blog at judyblackcloud.wordpress.com!