History of a Character: Simon
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?
12/21/2017 03:39:51 pm
Thinking about broody heroes, I just had an amusing thought of Kaladin with a mostly inanimate doll that speaks mind to mind instead of Syl... This tickles me! I'm going to start <s>giving</s> lending dolls to random fictional characters
12/21/2017 04:54:28 pm
"A side of 'whatever sounds cool,'" the honesty and hilarity of your writing, Will, in unexpected and emotional ways are what make you my favorite author. The Simon appearance in Sufficiently Advanced Magic had me giddy like a little kid. I consistently ask for more Travelers Gate when I comment, but honestly I can't wait to read anything you put to paper (metaphorically). It's been a minute since I've seen Calder too, but hey - I'll graciously accept whatever may be next. Thank you for such amazing world's.
12/21/2017 06:42:47 pm
Is that cameo well known? I thought I was tripping when I read/reread that part of Sufficiently Advanced Magic.
12/21/2017 07:54:25 pm
Woah looks like I need to do some rereading
12/21/2017 08:44:19 pm
Its an unofficial Cameo.
12/22/2017 01:45:26 am
I always thought it was Kai for some reason...
12/22/2017 06:01:01 am
I remember reading somewhere Will is either friends with, or a beta reader for, or both, of/for Andrew Rowe.
12/28/2017 11:57:53 pm
Ok, comment about Simon appearance in SAMagic?? I’ve totally read that twice and missed it both times. When and where is this?!?
12/29/2017 08:56:53 am
Not sure which chapter, but I believe it’s after their first test, possibly the second. Corin walks into Lars’s shop and sees the other customers. He freaks out when he sees a hooded and masked figure with a giant metal sword with a doll with a light blue dress in his pocket. Then he realizes it’s not Keras because the swordsman is around his age with light brown hair. Sound like someone from travelers gate?
12/21/2017 06:41:06 pm
Can we see a backstory on shera next? I would totally love to see that. How did you come up with such an interesting personality? Unless of course you are going by series, for travelers gate I’d want to see Kai next.
12/22/2017 01:46:22 am
Shera is probably the only person will has written that could be considered a "Genius" character. If only she wouldn't sleep so much she'd rule the world :P
12/21/2017 08:14:31 pm
Just saying, when he thinks his doll calls out his crush on Leah and everybody just turns and stares at him, I lose it every time I read that part!
12/21/2017 09:53:37 pm
Thanks Will! This was a great idea! It’s always cool to see inside an author’s mind a little bit. Although it seems like your mind might be a dangerous place to get lost... :)
12/21/2017 11:41:20 pm
Great write up Will!
12/22/2017 10:32:25 am
I've used Scrivener for my web-fiction to some degree of success, though I've heard Vellum is also popular.
12/22/2017 10:41:02 am
Scrivener is pretty good for me.
12/22/2017 07:59:30 am
Nice info, I always appreciate seeing the motivations behind a character. So many protagonists can feel "flat" or like a cookie cutter character, but I always enjoyed how you portrayed Simon.
12/22/2017 10:29:28 am
Hey Will I wanna write a story but I'm bad at coming up with ideas. You got any spare ones you can throw me?
12/22/2017 11:59:02 am
Think of some of your favorite books/comics/stories. What parts do you like? borrow from different sources and stitch it together into something brand new, or a twist on an old classic.
I believe you've asked me this before, and I'm never sure how to respond.
12/23/2017 05:21:07 pm
Yeah those sound like cool idea's I'm doing research on stuff like 7 Chakra's, 7 cardinal sins, 7 virues and sort of tying them together, that's just the magic. I have more trouble with plot idea's but that technique you just said sounds useful I'll try it.
12/24/2017 08:14:46 am
Wow, thanks Will! I did not expect so thorough and detailed a response.
12/28/2017 09:15:01 pm
I guess what I'm really looking for is an idea with a "Will stamp of approval" or something.
12/22/2017 10:34:30 am
If I get divinity 2 original sins 4 Christmas will you play it with me?
12/22/2017 10:51:04 am
That name though...
12/22/2017 04:51:23 pm
Never-mind. My dad said that Divinity Original sins 2 is only for adults like him...
12/22/2017 06:03:39 pm
Awesome backstory! Can you give info on the origin of Simon’s dolls both in the book and IRL? Or anything else. That works too. Excited for the Christmas short story!
12/23/2017 01:04:40 pm
Ofcourse the dolls do not actually talk. Thats impossible. In actuallity, Kai is the only one having found a room deep down in the house wich lets you spread your insanities to others, thus making them start hearing the dolls aswell.
12/24/2017 05:18:24 am
I like the simplistic name: Simon. It really does sum up the character very well. As for all your characters of the Traveler's Gate story, they are great. Take for instance "the Dolls", yes, they help to define Simon's character, but they also teach, (what exactly is a Valinhall Traveler?). I read Valinhall as a Territory that is a labyrinth of rooms that follow their own rules (while the other Territories have more set rules in place-think alternate universes -if a Territory were a planet in an alternate universe that could be acessed from the world this story takes place in, then the other Territories would be subject to those laws that govern that planet, Valinhall is made up of many different planets, thus many different laws work there).
12/24/2017 08:56:15 pm
Hahahaha the path of the ancient coal miner 😂 some ashes along with coal. 😂😂 you crack me up
A Reader of Santa’s Top-Secret List
12/24/2017 08:59:26 pm
I loved this!! It kind of made me want to put some of my own characters on Santa’s naughty/nice list…
12/27/2017 02:14:09 pm
Will, please never stop writing. You quickly became one of my favorite writers of all time with your creativity and style. The stuff like this, where we get a chance to see how you turned every day thoughts into an amazing series, really jazzes me up and its also kind of inspiring. I hope you have an awesome New Year regardless of how many words you put to page. Be well!
12/27/2017 10:25:07 pm
Hey Will, hope your year-end celebrations were/are going well. Also, if it's not too late for any sort of suggestions, I'd like to know more about my favorite steel-boned skeleton. How did you come up with Benson? And where was he before Valinhall was cobbled together?
12/29/2017 09:00:25 am
I immediately second this question. I actually really liked that part in TG and I would definitely like to know more!
12/30/2017 06:35:19 pm
So if its from gurren lagann, does that mean its pronounced simone...? That messes with my head
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Hey, what about those short stories you claim to have already written?
Apparently they're kept here!