Monday, November 21, 2011

How Hard is Character Development When Writing? Ask An Author!

By: Rachel Forde, Author of Lastborn

In writing, character development can be a tricky thing.  I've found that as a reader, I'm much more likely to overlook minor flaws in a book if I can relate to the characters and get emotionally invested in their struggles.  As I writer, I also know first hand how difficult it is to get character development right, and how you can learn some interesting things about yourself in the process.

One of the two protagonists in Lastborn is Nara-Ya, a sixteen year-old girl who recently escaped from a life of slavery under an evil sorceress.  I wrote the early drafts of the story in high school, and at that time, Nara-Ya was your typical "Mary Sue" stock protagonist that always pops up in bad fantasy.  She was heroic, invincible, brilliant for her age, and everyone loved her except for the bad guys, which, as I learned, made her incredibly boring.

My depiction of Nara-Ya suffered because it was not realistic.  This was, after all, a teenage girl who had spent the formative years of her life in the fantasy equivalent of a concentration camp, overseen by a race of what were basically sentient, walking corpses.  You would think that someone growing up in that kind of environment would have some deep-rooted emotional problems, wouldn't you?

To that, add the culture shock of moving from a simple, dog-eat-dog economy in the slave camps to the complicated, pseudo-Victorian context of where she would end up: the country of Ephola.  Nara-Ya had remarkable physical strength, which had helped her survive in the camps, but no education, and no understanding of things like laws or courts.  She would have absolutely no clue how to respond to threats in a way that wouldn't get herself and everyone associated with her hanged as criminals.

As a result of these thoughts, what emerged was a character that I wasn't expecting at all.  For a character with so much (physical) strength, she was actually very weak.  Robbed of her usual survival mechanisms, she was passive, unsure of herself, and had no real agency of her own; she found herself becoming a tool of those around her, with no clue how to escape or forge her own path.  Rather than being heroic and invincible, she had become tragic and vulnerable.

And suddenly, I liked her.  I don't know exactly why; as someone who has often struggled with depression and anxiety myself, a character who can't seem to beat her demons should be as threatening to me as she is relatable.  Little facets of ourselves often creep into our characters as we are writing them.  I'm mildly autistic; perhaps I liked her because I understood the pain of being an outsider and of not knowing "the rules", and I was invested in her development, because I knew from personal experience what was at stake.

Nara-Ya's character arc will last beyond the final page of "Lastborn" and into the next books in the series.  It remains to be seen where it will end--if she will be doomed by her own inability to move forward, or if she will find the strength to emerge victorious.  I think she is a stark contrast to the much more hopeful character of Donovan Brennan, a friend and confidant who is her opposite in every way in spite of having an equally tragic past.  Perhaps, if Nara-Ya subconsciously represents the failure that I fear, maybe Donovan represents the powerful, strong-hearted person I hope I can someday become.

About Lastborn by Rachel Forde
The exciting first installment of the Sixth Cycle series.

Nara-Ya is a pugnacious adolescent girl on the run from a powerful sorceress. Fate lands her in the company of her polar opposite, the soft-spoken Donovan Brennan, who is simultaneously struggling to lead a Resistance movement, regain a throne for a wronged King, and prevent a war between the land he lives in and the land of his birth.

Brennan walks a fine line between his principles and success; Nara-Ya, by contrast, knows what she has to do to survive, and circumstances shunt her towards the life of a fighter and warrior. However, as war looms, as her friendship with Donovan grows into something more, and as Nara-Ya is forced to confront her darker instincts, she begins to question her destiny, and is forced to make a decision that will alter the fate of their world. See more at


Amused said...

I like hearing about the authorial process so I found this article very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Cassandra @ Book & Movie Dimension a Blog said...

Hi Amused

Glad you enjoyed the post. Found it great reading too. I never know how authors come up with their material, so this is good to read about.

Unknown said...

Interesting post about character development. You really have to see from the eyes of your character. Your bookblog.ning friend.

Cassandra @ Book & Movie Dimension a Blog said...

Hi DM thanks for connecting with the post:)

Unknown said...

HI intresting artical, i love to write myself and find if i dont connect with a character the story doesnt work! i am stuggling to find my hero in a romance at the moment! he is called david but i dont think i like him! lol your newest follower!


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