Real Characters

We in fantasy are renowned for our use of stereotypes. Granted, there are exceptions, but many fantasy works feature stock characters. These stock characters are often the primary element of a story which detracts from its impact and entertainment value.

You know the ones I’m talking about: beautiful, handsome, daring, infinitely resilient, endlessly whiny, destined characters. The stock nature of many of these characters is either 1) physical, or 2) emotional. Both types play a sour note in many a tale. The irony is that other than stock characters, many of these tales also feature well-imagined, exotic lands and places; complicated cultures, societies, and religions. In other words, everything but the characters is vivid and riveting.

But what can be done about these drab, run-of-the-mill characters? Much.

Start by looking around you at the people in your life: coworkers, friends, acquaintances, bosses, ex-bosses, the guy behind the counter at the gas station. All our rich sources of inspiration for much more dynamic, real, characters. And don’t forget yourself. You pick at yourself inwardly and externally; you twitch, wince, scowl, and faun. Inwardly, your thoughts differentiate you even more from someone who otherwise could be your physical carbon copy. And this is where you have to dig fearlessly. Really get to the core of your own idiosyncrasies and bequeath them on your unfortunate characters.

Beginning today, start a mental diary (or physical, your choice) of all the idiosyncratic stuff you observe in the people around you. Note physical oddities as well as mental and emotional discontinuities. The more you observe those around you, carefully noting what makes Patrick unique from Corey, or Corey unique from Al, the more you’ll find your growing thesaurus of foibles spring readily to you as you write.

By imbuing your fantasty characters with the stuff you see in the banal real world around you, I guarantee your characters will become more dynamic, more engaging, and a heck of a lot more interesting. Your story will be the better for having characters which don’t distract from the rest of the very cool world you’ve created.  In the Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) and The First Law Series (Joe Abercrombie) are both excellent examples of generally well-written fantasy which feature exceptionally interesting, unique characters.

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