Category Archives: Character

Characters We Love (with Jacqueline Carey giveaway!)

It’s been a big week here at Fictorians. Just a few days ago, we had our very first superstar guest post with David Farland talking about the future of publishing. We have more excitement today with a giveaway by the very excellent Jacqueline Carey.  More about that soon…

I’ve been thinking this week about what makes a memorable character. Every now and again, along comes a character who is so alive, they seem to jump right off the page. This is the character who climbs into your head with you and comes along for the ride as you read their story and then lingers in your memory long after the book is closed. This is the character you want to be or, at least, to hang out with.

I didn’t discover fantasy until my early 20s (unless we’re counting Enid Blyton) and one of the first memorable characters I encountered was Phedre no Delaunay from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. Phedre is a vibrant and beautifully-drawn character, sold into indentured servitude as a child and then raised as a spy and a very special type of courtesan. She’s intelligent, poised, determined, and just a little bit devious. She faces heartbreak, treachery and murderous plots, all while seemingly never getting a hair out of place.

Jacqueline Carey’s most recent novel, Saints Astray, which continues the adventures of Loup and Pilar from Santa Olivia, will be on the bookstore shelves any day now. To celebrate, Jacqueline is offering a signed copy of Saints Astray for one lucky Fictorians reader. To enter, leave a comment below telling us in 25 words or less who your favourite book character is.

Want more than one entry? Post a link to the Fictorians blog on your facebook page or your own blog, or tweet the details of our contest. If you do any of these things, leave the details (including your web address and twitter handle) with your comment. There’s a maximum of 4 entries per person (one for each method of entry).

Entries will be accepted until 9pm PST on Thursday, 17 November. All entries will be transferred to our special winner selection machine (ie a baseball cap) and a random entry drawn. The winner will be announced on Saturday, 19 November.

Sorry, this offer is available to US residents only.

Jacqueline Carey - Saints Astray Image

 Click here to read the first chapter of Saints Astray

Click here to order from

Valuing Your Characters or Maslow for Writers

A great plot and fantastic world building mean nothing without solid characters. Solid characters? Aren’t protagonists supposed to have weaknesses, flaws, desires which make them easier to relate to? And aren’t antagonists supposed to have soft spots to make them less stereotypical? True enough. But how do we determine those qualities?

Solid, well rounded characters, above all else, need value systems. What is the character’s core philosophy? What does he/she value above all else? What is most important? Family? Survival? Pursuit of knowledge? Loyalty? Money? Control? Love? Revenge? Adherence to rules? Fully realized characters have values which are challenged as they try to achieve their goals or live up to them. For example, an heiress, loyal to her father and his values which made him wealthy, searches for love and finds it in someone who hates everything her family stands for.

Value systems create opportunity for conflict and give characters depth. Once we’ve discovered those values, the plot comes alive as characters struggle to be true to themselves. For example, in The Hunger Games, despite all contestants valuing survival, they each value other things which motivate them: Katniss wants to save her sister and to avoid loving people but finds herself falling in love with Peeta who she’ll have to kill to win the competition; and Peeta wants to save Katniss but to do so, he must overcome his pacifist nature and kill others.

Ask – What three things does your character value the most?
The most important thing for X is: survival ….. adhering to the rules ….. scientific discovery …. family ….. avoiding love … finding love …. and so on.

We can use Maslow’s Hierarchy to explore the range of values to determine which ones will create the most conflict for our character and our story. Maslow’s Hierarchy orders our human needs from the most basic to self-actualization. Remember, fulfilling our needs determines what our values are at any given point in our lives. That means we can be on level 1 while trying to achieve level 5 because conflicts are never tidy packages – they are individual to the person and even to the culture.

Maslow’s Hierarchy
Level 1 – Survival: basics such as food, shelter, water, clothing, health – what the human body requires to function
Level 2 – Safety and security: personal (violence, natural disaster), financial, health and well being
Level 3 – Love/belonging: friendship, intimacy, family, this is our tribal nature of needing to belong in a group to enhance safety and survival needs
Level 4 – Esteem: being respected by others, needing status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. self-respect, mastery, independence and freedom. Respect = greater power
Level 5 – Self-actualization: concerns personal growth and fulfilment

Now use Maslow’s Hierarchy to understand your character’s values and to create conflict. Let’s start with Cindy. She’s a mom, a scientist and a peace activist.

Ask – What three things are most important for Cindy? What does she value? How does that fit into the hierarchy?1) winning the Pulitzer prize for peace by creating a Virtual web around the earth which neutralizes weapons (levels 4 and 5);
2) survival because nuclear proliferation threatens world safety (levels 1 and 2); and
3) her family (level 3).

Create your plot line by threatening all or some of the values or pitting them against one another:
Terrorists steal Cindy’s invention to use it to control all political powers on earth. Cindy must cooperate by agreeing to be their spokesperson and by activating the device in order to save her family. Will Cindy sacrifice her family to save the world? Will she die saving the world but be dishonoured as a traitor?

The higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy can be compromised by the lower basic needs or vice versa. Take a value and either go higher or lower on the chart to find a situation or value which can undo it. Ask what your character wants to gain and then ask how that can be undone or threatened by another value or what the effect of that will be.

Once you’ve determined your character’s values, putting them in emotional or physical conflicts which challenge those values makes for interesting reading. How your character responds to those situations creates wonderful opportunities for more action and reaction and moves the story along.

And, as an added bonus, focussing on values helps create the elusive pitch! Here are two quick pitches developed using Maslow’s Hierarchy and a character’s values.

Tom cannot remain the invisible technician aboard a space ship (level 4) when a computer virus compromises life support (levels 1 and 2) and he must overcome his insecurities (levels 4 and 5) to find the traitor before everyone dies.

Kim values family above all else (level 3) but his desire for wealth (level 2) puts him in a compromised position which threatens to bankrupt him and leave his family penniless (levels 1 and 2).

Using these examples create a story by exploring the protagonist’s values. Ask yourself: What is important to the character? What threatens his values? Now, create the supporting characters and determine what is important to each of them. Which of their values will conflict with the protagonist? What internal conflicts arise for each character?

By answering these questions, your plot comes alive through conflict, your characters rise beyond cardboard cut-outs and your readers, well, they’ll love you for it!

So, value your character by developing personal values which are threatened or clash with one another. Let those values drive the plot and watch your story come alive.

Happy writing!

Research sources:…/’s_hierarchy_of_needs Ҽ leadership/management

That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling

So, I did it. 40,917 words. 113 pages. All in three days.

Now I have a novella to show for it – one that needs massive editing, mind, and one that I’ve been finding little narrative holes all through the more that I think about it – but nevermind. It’s done. I entered the Three-Day Novel Writing Contest and I made my goal. I got the e-mail from the contest organizer that proves it. In January I learn what they thought of it and whether it was enough to get on the shortlist (my oh-so-Canadian goal).

Now, of course, the writing has to take a back seat to work and life and all of those other things that I put off. There are lots of scientific papers to write and other duties at work to complete. There’s a house to clean before the in-laws get here for Thanksgiving. There won’t be time to sit down and write anything more for a while, but honestly? That can’t wipe out the sense of accomplishment that this gave me.

I wrote this. I sat down and wrote a story that I like and that I’m happy with, beginning to end. The three days bit was fun and outrageous, but that sense of completion? I would have that whether it had been three days or three years.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt that satisfied. Like many writers, I have a hard-drive full of unfinished drafts and false starts, and sometimes I go back in my weaker moments to try and recapture the creative energy that seemed to come from those beginnings. I’ve often felt a strange nostalgia in reading these – a sense of the possibility that the story held, and a moment of sadness that it didn’t seem to take off from the ground. There were always reasons why they didn’t work – a plot point too unbelievable, a character too unsympathetic – but there was always some spark there, and I sometimes wish I could take those fragments and keep going on them.
Maybe someday.

But there comes a point when you need to finish something, and when you do, even if it’s not as exciting as publication, it always feels like the biggest thing in the whole world. This is the first story I’ve finished in a long, long time, let alone something I’m happy with, and I’m looking forward to letting it stew for a while before tackling it with an even greater vigour, trying to craft it into something even more than it is now.

I’d love to hear how other people feel when they finish. Do you get pleased with yourself, like I do, or does it just spur you on to greater things? What’s been the most accomplished moment you’ve had lately with your writing?

You are an Evil Mastermind

Do you know the thing I love the most about being a writer? It’s not the creation of beautiful prose (though, that is a lovely outcome). It’s not the fact that, when I’m finally published and I gain super-author status I will be able to finally stay at home in my PJ’s for a living (hey, it could totally happen).

No, the reason I love writing is because I, with all my inadequacies and failures and social ineptitudes, get to be a villain.

Let’s face it people. From the moment we sit down to craft a story, we become devious creatures. We build human beings of our own devising just to put them through hell for the enjoyment of others. And we do it with a smile on our faces (inherently villainous). We spend days, weeks, and months picking the right words to manipulate the reader into thinking what we want them to (true super-villainy).

My fine friend, the craft of writing is a master class in being an evil mastermind.

Now, you might say that a character isn’t technically a person, so that doesn’t count.

My reply would be that you’ve obviously never been in a room full of Sherrilyn Kenyon fans. To the reader experiencing your story, the characters should always be people. Complex and issue-riddled, they have faults just like the frail flesh and blood variety. The reader has to see them as real people, or they won’t care what happens to them.

So, once the character is complete and real and human, it’s our job to knock them flat, destroy their lives, kill their friends and loved ones, maim them, torture them, and do pretty much whatever we can to make what’s left of their lives as difficult as possible. Then, we become really cruel. We make them figure a way out all by themselves. This paper person must be active, so no shortcuts, no divine providence. Providence, after all, is the realm of gods, and for your story, you are god-a villainous god. And don’t forget, like the arena of old, this is all for entertainment’s sake.

My, my. We are evil, aren’t we?

But the most dastardly part is what we do to the reader. Our entire craft is completely based on manipulation, obfuscation, and downright lying. From the reliance on descriptive word choice and using the active voice, to how characters walk and what’s in their refrigerators, we work to guide the reader’s subconscious perceptions. It’s kinda like when movie theaters used to splice subliminal advertising into their previews to get the audience to go buy things from the concession stand. Done right, the reader never knows they’re being manipulated. But make no mistake. What we’re doing is convincing the reader what to think, how to feel, and when to do both.

I’m feeling a little like Big Brother in an Orwellian kinda way, aren’t you?

Being able to manipulate the reader like this is, of course, a very difficult and delicate kind of manipulation that takes much hard work, years of on the job study, many maligning critiques (yet more proof of my point), and plotting (See? I just made a pun. I must be evil.). It’s not easy, but highly enjoyable when you see all the minions you create who will love you for being the black-hearted creature of darkness you really are.