When I asked last week about blog topics that you most wanted me to cover, there were a few common responses. Some people wanted to hear my opinions on books and movies and so forth, some people wanted writing advice, and some people wanted to hear more about my writing process.
This suggestion came in that last category. A friend of mine, after reading the blog post, texted me suggesting that I should post a brief history of how I came up with some of my characters.
I thought it was a good idea, and I figured a natural place to start was with my first protagonist: Simon, son of Kalman, hero of the Traveler's Gate trilogy.
Traveler's Gate started out as two documents. The first was a file called Rivals.rtf, which was a very broad three-paragraph outline about a story in which two boys were competing to see who could save the world first. The second was a few brief notes on what would become the Territory magic system, but I'll probably cover that in a future post.
In the earliest parts of the story development process, I usually refer to characters by role. In this case, Alin was Hero and Simon was Rival. I wrote down the whole broad shape of the plot (which I usually don't do) and left it there.
In 2012, when I was first facing down the prospect of really writing a book, I decided to go with the concept that I thought would be easiest for me to finish. Not necessarily my best idea, just the one that I believed I could execute. When I looked through my notes and found Rival.rtf, I knew I had something that I might at least get to the end of.
First, I gave Simon a name. I named him after the main character of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
That's about as complicated as it gets.
"Simon" is simple and easy to pronounce or remember, which was my priority. It's also Greek in origin, which gave me a basis for naming the entire rest of the region. I used mainly a mix of Greek-origin and Hebrew-origin names, though with a heavy dose of fantasy-ization and a side of "whatever sounds cool."
The entire time, I intended for that to be only a placeholder name. One of the last things I did before putting House of Blades up for production was try to come up with a more original name for Simon, but by the time I did that it was too late. His name was Simon.
As for his personality, I knew he was going to end up as a pretty standard hero--he uses a big sword, hits things really hard, and does the right thing--so I tried to give him a little twist in the other direction. He's awkward. When he doesn't know what to say, he doesn't say anything.
This was all in the service of bringing him to life as an individual a little bit, rather than leaving him feeling like a vehicle for the plot. However, it meant that he was too...quiet, really. He didn't interact with the other characters enough, which left him feeling detached.
He needed somebody to talk to.
The dolls were a happy accident that I might go into at a future date, but basically they were the result of my general philosophy that I put in anything that sounds fun. I needed someone for Simon to play off of, and if they can needle him a little bit and make it so that he's not just the brooding anime antihero with the huge sword, so much the better.
Interacting with the dolls helped me define Simon's personality, because he gets to open up around them. His dialogue and his choices interacting with him help make him more vivid and more human, which is something that I often struggle to communicate in main characters. My side characters are always lively, but my protagonists can be a little stiff.
The rest of him--his history, his family, the choices he makes during scenes--were the result of me repeatedly asking the question "What kind of person would do these things?" Who would set off to Valinhall without a group of friends for support? Who would try and save the day even though Alin was already around to do those things? What kind of a person would do well in Valinhall, even if he wasn't some kind of genius?
"...it slipped from the ship, splashing into the water below."
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