Everything I write starts with a character. There are other schools of thought, sure. Lots of writers start with a situation and work from there, and that’s fine and all. But I start with characters, and this is my blog, so that’s where we’re starting.
The stories in a fantasy characters are not, generally, people you could toss into any other sort of story. In fact, you can turn a story into a fantasy story just by including some sorts of characters. The mage, the Elf, the Troll, the Dwarf, the Dragon. You just don’t find trolls in murder mysteries, sadly. These characters are steeped in myth, and tradition. You just can’t have a fantasy book without at least a few.
Which is why so much bad fantasy is shitty reproductions of stories we all read already!
Sorry, but it’s true. The unsure of himself human, the mage apprentice who is just learning his power, the smith dwarf. I am sick to death of it! If I read about one more elf archer I’m going to shot someone with an arrow myself. And I can do it, having studied archery while researching Woven.
Here’s what I do, to create characters for my fantasy novels that are actual characters, and not examples of the archetype.
It all starts with realistic societies.
This is important with any world building, but even more so with a topic that has been viewed too often. Let’s take elves, for example. Every damned time I see an elf, they are serene, calm people. They’re at one with themselves, and their surroundings. They make homes in forests, and are steeped in generations of wisdom and amazing sleek that they only ever use for selfless things.
Are there no seamstresses? No political dissenters? No lazy screw ups still living with their parents? Are there not jerks, or elves with hot tempers? What about elves that like to get drunk and dance on bars?
There might be, there might not be. It all depends on what sort of society they have. What’s socially acceptable, what sort of habits do they have? What sort of habits are frowned upon but still exist? What kind of everyday people are in a random village in your story?
Consider the person your character would be, if she wasn’t what she is.
What if your dwarf wasn’t a dwarf? What if she was an alien? What if she was a human? Would she still be who she is? More importantly, would this character be interesting at freaking all if she wasn’t a dwarf? If the answer is no, then you need to rewrite that character.
There are weirdos in every breed, and other things I learned from Harry Potter.
I am not the only writer who praises Dobby as a really well written character. He’s part of a species that is, all by itself, pretty boring. An elf that cleans people’s houses. Okay, it’s a nifty touch, but not that interesting. But Dobby is nothing like the rest of his kind. He wants freedom, at least as far as he can understand the word. He loves socks, he’s fearless and he’s a full blown person. You could make him a human being, take away the distinctive house elf language, and he would still be an interesting character. Dobby’s not the only example, from the series, either. Hell, literal snakes in the book were their own people.
If you cannot create your own mythical being, dig deep into mythology for something not played out.
I learned all about basilisks, griffins, and they mythical wolves who will devour the Earth at the end of time. Fernier is his name, and he has some awesome stories.
There are some great mythical creatures and stories out there. If you don’t want to create your own fantasy creatures or mythologies, don’t fear. Dig deep into any mythology and you’ll find something no one’s ever heard of.
Good stories start with real characters, no matter the genre. Have fun.