Friday, 3 June 2011


What does your character learn? It seems to be one of the key questions when dealing with novel length fiction in particular, and it’s one that I increasingly feel is important. There is a real danger in fantasy, and especially the sort where you produce long series, that you don’t want the character to change too much, because that leaves nothing for the next one.

Yet that can cause real problems. All too often, you end up with the sort of thing where you set out a perfectly normal fantasy series of events, but there is no feeling of connection between the character and those events. What the character needs in terms of growth is such a huge springboard when it comes to creating scenes and other characters.

I often feel that it’s useful, in fact, for the whole novel to reflect a particular set of themes. Obviously, it’s easy to be heavy handed with that, but I think that it lends things a sense of coherence that they might otherwise lack. Subplots should be alternate approaches to those themes, while the majority of major characters should have a position on them to some degree. Think of it the way a university dissertation must have a central thesis.

In my forthcoming novel Court of Dreams, for example, I explore a lot of ideas around duty and doing the right thing. Very broad themes, obviously, but they helped me to bring together some quite disparate strands, and placed characters on a continuum so that I could be sure that they were all contributing as fully as they could.


Susan Kane said...

What does my character learn? That's the very question I have been approaching this week. Good question and discussion.

Tessa Conte said...

There's one thing my character really WANTS to learn (or maybe experience) and then there's what he's REALLY learning... definately not the same thing. I'm mean that way.

MWAHAHA and all that.

Autumn Shelley said...

Any suggestions for how you actually 'theme' out your character's growth? I'm all about simplicity, so for me, (at least right now) I have a 'storyboard' for the character, and beneath that the values or lessons he's going to learn. For example, "to be a leader". Then I create scenes that fit that character growth.
Of course, then it all has to stay true to the central theme of the work and still have an engaging plot that moves the entire piece forward. Ugh! Why do I do this to myself??? :)

Angeline said...

I'm always thinking about this question, and I let my characters learn the way I believe we do in real life; by our own mistakes.
Also, other characters, even really minor ones, are so important for teaching your character things. I strongly believe that everyone you meet in life, no matter how long they're in your life for, either gives you something or teaches you something, and I always write that into my work too.

stu said...

Autumn, a big part of it is thinking about core themes towards the start. They help you in a lot of areas, such as world building and symbolism, in any case, so it's a useful step to include.

With a central idea in place, I can then create a character who I can be sure is going to be tied into the novel, while still being strong enough to appear fully three dimensional to the reader.