As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. the author of The Shadow of the High King I am very excited and
The Shadow of the High King: The Weaving Shadows Book One
Is due out August 30, 2016
So go get yourself a copy!
Six Things to Consider When Creating Convincing Characters in Dark Fantasy
Dark fantasy, or Grimdark fantasy, to use the emerging terminology, is becoming increasingly popular with more mainstream audiences as time goes by. A large part of this newfound acceptance can be attributed to the overwhelming success of shows such as Game of Thrones and the works of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence, which add a smear of real-world grittiness to the epic scope of traditional, shiny, Tolkien-esque fantasy. It could also be seen to be a result of the enormous popularity of the Dark Souls game franchise over the last five years, with its delightfully twisted spin on typical western fantasy and dismal storyline, knee-deep in grime and filth.
This success obviously leads to the birth of the next generation of writers within a genre. After trawling through the forums of fantasy-writers.org and talking to a fair number of people just beginning to pen their own tomes, I decided to write my own post on a topic many people seem to struggle with – creating convincing characters within a dark fantasy setting.
1. Keep it real
As people start to tire of the stereotypical, clean-cut fantasy tropes the genre has relied upon for decades, an area many beginning writers struggle with is the urge to go overboard when creating their characters.
Now, while there’s nothing wrong with any character type at all in your writing (how well you actually write them being the main concern in your efforts, of course), having a main character who is, say, a mindless sadist preoccupied with torturing others with no explanation for his actions may not work as well for the story as, perhaps, a character who suffers a sadistic streak in his nature due to previous trauma, the details of which are for you to decide.
It’s the dash of realism that makes dark fantasy grab people’s attention and tug at their emotions – creating characters who go overboard with the ‘dark’ tag may counteract that effort at believability and actually achieve the opposite. A man or woman suffering emotional/personality troubles (or compensating for such) as an adult due to something experienced as a child may be more believable and interesting than a character whose sole focus is causing suffering or being cruel withouttheir own reasoning or justification.
A good example of this would be Prince Jorg from Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy – a character that goes far, far beyond most concepts of an antihero, but whose personal experiences still keep the reader hoping for their success against all else.
An interesting facet of dark/Grimdark fantasy is that you can enable the epicness and creativity of traditional and high fantasy, but give it a more down-to-earth and relatable theme or plot.
Characters seeking to right wrongs, avenging themselves or others, seizing power from or usurping those they perceive as weak or undeserving, coming to terms with or laying to rest the past and achieving catharsis – whatever their motivations are, in this genre you can utilise them to be a breath of fresh air, rather than something as overdone as, maybe, selflessly saving the world from some malign dark lord who wants to destroy it for no apparent reason. The key point is to make sure that the motivations complement the characters you create and result in believable storylines.
For example, in my novel The Shadow of the High King, I chose an overarching theme of revenge to be the motivation of my main character, Harlin, and his storyline. This is because, when considering the nature of his character, gearing his motivations towards something altruistic or noble would have been quite difficult, if not impossible, to make believable and engaging.
3. The means
When trying to keep things convincing with your characters, you need to take into account the means they implement throughout their tale to achieve their end, and whether or not they’re being used to add to the story or are simply tacked on for effect.
If, for instance, your main character is a ruthless murderer who relentlessly kills almost everyone he meets, yes, it may be grim and dark, but will you be able to craft a believable, gripping story out of it and avoid it becoming a repetitive, dreary occurrence that detracts from the plot?
It is easy, when trying to craft a dark, tormented character, to have the grimmer traits of their personality overshadow the story as a whole – instead of enhancing it, as it should. Explore ways in which you can use their darker moments to push forward the story you’re crafting.
4. The world around them
The setting is another thing to consider when crafting your characters. How will the world around them react to the things they do in your story, and how will that affect the story in itself?
If your character is lawless and reckless, what impact will their behaviour have upon them as the story develops? After all, it’s not entirely conceivable that murderous or excessively violent characters would go unpunished for long in an organised society (unless, of course, that is the kind of society you are also creating in your story). What repercussions will their traits have for them when trying to achieve their aim and how will they deal with them? Things like this will help you craft a character who reacts believably, or at least understandably, when faced with the (probably none-too-pleasant) situations you deal them.
5. The darkness of mental health
Going back to what I said about characters suffering emotional trauma in their history, something worth considering is the impact this has upon their present mental health.
The field of mental health, aside from being something relatable for many people and an area of ever-growing concern in today’s world, is also a fabulous way of garnering inspiration when creating your characters, and will only serve to make them more believable or understandable to your readers. As I said, it’s the dash of reality in Grimdark fantasy that sucks readers into the story itself.
Myself, being a mental health nurse, I was already aware of mental health and its impact when crafting the characters in The Shadow of the High King, and I was able to draw on my experience.
Others, I am aware, don’t have this experience, or, sadly, much awareness of mental health at all, and if this is a facet you would like to include in your writing, I would strongly suggest you research the subject before you do so, from reliable sources such as mind.org. This will help you avoid the stereotypes and misconceptions of mental illness that mass media proliferates, again helping to add that touch of realism.
After all, the reality of mental illness is much, much darker and grimmer than anything Hollywood can throw at you.
6. Push the boundaries of fantasy
My final point for you to consider, is that of boundary-pushing in the fantasy genre.
Although I’ve been saying ‘make it believable’ over and over in this post, and perhaps that suggests almost that your characters should be toned down, perhaps, from what you want to portray them as, you should not be afraid to push past what you think is acceptable and what is not. Boundaries, after all, are meant to be pushed – otherwise we’d never have anything new!
A lot of fantasy writers skirt around subjects of sex, swearing and drug-use in their writing, all things that were a regular occurrence throughout history, but for some reason have been a relative rarity in fantasy until more recent years.
Considering most fantasy writers’ willingness to describe graphic violence in their prose, even within relatively clean-cut works, I myself think there is room for these other areas to be utilised to their full potential within your writing, especially when it comes to furthering the realistic elements of your characters. Incorporating elements of these in your writing can make your characters seem much more human, and less like fictional, literary constructs who rise above all things fleshly and base.
George R. R. Martin is most certainly a prime example of boundary-pushing, seeing as his works incorporate graphic violence, incestuous love affairs, sex (both consenting and non-consenting), drug use and almost continuous swearing. He is also known for his ability to create emotional bonds between reader and character and then utilise this to brutal effect. You should, too.
Frank Dorrian was born in 1987 in Liverpool – his hometown, a post-industrial cityscape, served as poignant inspiration for his creative efforts. He would commence writing in earnest during his teenage years, composing stories to sate desires of both expression and introspection.Today, Frank is a qualified mental health nurse. He works in the field with people suffering severe psychiatric and psychological disorders, and additionally offers private mind coaching sessions for those needing a refreshing take on life’s trials.
When not writing, Frank spends his spare time reading, playing computer games and attending a martial arts gym. He has previously competed as a fighter domestically in the UK and abroad in Thailand.
His first book, The Shadow of the High King, a dark fantasy novel, will be released 30th August 2016.
Violence, betrayal and vengeance rot Caermark from within.
King Aenwald, a murderous tyrant determined to continue his twenty-year rule, will suffer no man that lusts for power. But those who came long before the Kings of Caermark stir once again, after a hundred years of silence, and even Aenwald’s iron fist may struggle to hold them and the chaos they bring.
The mercenary lord, Arnulf, dreams of greater things than a life of bloodshed and murder. Robbed of his birthright and denied justice by King Aenwald, those very dreams may carry their price in blood for his loyal band of men, as he strives to see them made real.
The young warrior, Harlin, haunted by the atrocities he suffered as a child, struggles to come to terms with the past. Consumed by hate and obsessed by revenge, how far is he willing to go to see it done, as the horrors within his mind run unchecked and unchained?