Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Step Two: Creating Compelling Characters

Here is Step Two in my creative process, with a commentary to follow. If you missed Step One, please check it out HERE first.

These are two characters for my current fantasy project, set in the realm of Sylva, the Forest Realm of Pangaia. In Step One I laid out my process for creating the fantasy world. Now it's time to start populating it with some compelling characters.

Yarroway of the Fox Clan (Sylvan Splitter):

Overview (Age, sex, title):

Yarroway (M) is a boy of seventeen. His friends and family call him Oway. He has just unlocked his Second Chakra and ascended to the level of Splitter. He must leave his home and begin his adult life on the southern border, defending his Realm from the Impyre.


Oway is fair of skin with long braided red hair and fox-like pointed ears. He has freckles on his nose and a wide smile that accentuates his canines. He is somewhat short, but makes up for it with his speed. He is lean but with wiry muscles. He wears leather jerkins over orange cloth tunics, thick brown cloth breeches, and tanned leather boots that reach his calves. He fights with a fire spear. He is fast and agile and stronger than he looks.

Personality Traits: (Archetype)

Oway is the Protector Archetype: Ares. He lives in his body instead of his head. Physical activity makes him feel alive. In a way, he lives on ‘eggshells’ feeling like everyone is out to get him. (This clashes nicely with Rait.) He is a ticking time bomb, but he is also fiercely loyal and protective. He can make women feel special and cared for. From an archetypal standpoint, Ares tends to avoid thinking about the future and is more in the now, ready for the next adventure. He likes to take risks. He cares about his family, and in his eye, the best way to protect them is to go off to the battlefield as soon as possible, so that he can come home to them sooner. He will fight for a good cause when others would give up.


Survival is the basic objective, but he does have a goal beyond that: to prove himself to the Whisperer who has come to bring him to the fight.

Motivation: Why the character cares about the objective. What will be gained?

Yarroway knows that if he impresses the Whisperer, the commander is sure to make certain he receives more training. Oway’s long term goal is to be able to return home to his Clan one day, to see his sister again and take his mate. His goal is to become a Whisperer as soon as possible, and then impress the Demutator so that he can become a Changer. Then he will be free to leave the battleground and return home to take on a leadership role within his Clan.

Stakes: The consequences of not gaining the objective. Create suspense.

There are many stakes. For one, if Oway cannot learn to be a Splitter, he will not fair well in battle against the Impyre. He could die if he does not learn to harness his new power. But he needs to not only survive, but to stand out, so that he can begin training to become a Whisperer. He will need the added protection of a beast to fight alongside him. He will need to ascend the ranks as quickly as possible, so that he doesn’t instead become a pawn on the battlefield who cannot ever make it home.
Oway fears not being able to protect the ones he loves and cares about. He would hate to fail and have someone get hurt because of it. He hates using his mind too much, and would prefer to jump to the physical solution to every problem that arises.

Obstacles: Inner and External. Set up the journey.

Oway’s new powers have only recently manifested. He hasn’t had enough time to train with his mentor before the Whisperer came for him. He is green. He has been fighting to protect the Clan village for some time, but has no experience in any real battles, only a few skirmishes in which he wasn’t the deciding factor in victory. He has fought against Eran Flitters, but who hasn’t? He has fended off an attack from a Shapeshifter or two, but that is not entirely special in and of itself. He is overly aware of his own lack of experience in a real fight. He needs experience, but what if seeking the very thing he needs puts him in a position where he is over his head and unable to do what needs to be done? He can’t put himself into harm’s way if he can’t get himself out of it. Would it be worse to be rescued by the Whisperer who brings him south, or to die trying to prove himself?

Oway needs to learn to use his mind as well as his body, to sit still and meditate, and to hold his temper. Above all else, he needs to learn self-control; he needs to stop taking risks. He needs to learn to defend himself by assessing a situation before reacting.


When he was a kid, Oway’s parents were both hurt in a Beast Tribe attack by the Rootless Wanderers. They are living now, though his father is crippled and his mother is scarred from the attack. He saw them both get hurt and was unable to help them. He wasn’t strong enough to protect them.

Oway has been trained by Mandrake (Drake for short) a middle-aged Sylvan of the Fox Clan who has served his time and was offered retirement to settle down and start a family back home. He is a distant uncle to Oway, and has a daughter that has caught Oway’s eye. Oway wants nothing more than to prove himself to Drake so he can win Juniper’s hand in marriage and start a Smallclan of his own.

Character Flaws:

Oway will physically react to an attack without thinking. He lives life on edge, always acting as if he is fighting for his survival. He can’t take anything lightly because of it. He can’t think things through well enough to see the consequences of his actions. He believes that those who hurt him (or his loved ones) deserve to be hurt. He will attack a Rootless Wanderer if he sees one, even if it is not the one who hurt his parents, and even if the Shapeshifter tries to run and isn’t attacking them.


The Whisperer is Rait, a female of the Bear Clan, who has a Bear Companion that she rides. She is immediately unimpressed with Oway’s thin weak body and his Clan, which is known for its trickery and lack of brute strength. He feels he must prove himself to her, especially because she seems painfully aware of how green he is. She urges him to stay with his Clan for another season to train and prepare himself before coming south, but he won’t listen because he is determined to prove himself and doesn’t like it when others tell him what to do. He was born a fighter and will die a fighter. He is too impulsive to think about the right course of action.

The other new Splitters are either impressed with his intensity and passion, or are unimpressed with his thickheaded bullishness. But Oway doesn’t care what others think, as long as he is free to react in the moment and enjoy himself. Oway would rather intimidate his new companions than make friends; he wants to show them the dark need for battle that lurks behind his eyes. In this area, Oway really needs to learn to become a protector, not just a fighter.

Rait of the Bear Clan (Sylvan Whisperer):

Overview (Age, sex, and title):

Rait (F) is a Whisperer of the Bear Clan. She is old and wise enough to protect herself and others, and for some reason she has remained a Whisperer for many years beyond what is considered normal. She is in her mid-thirties and will most likely never settle down and have cubs of her own. She is married to battle.


Rait is fierce. She has a bearskin cloak that she uses to control her Companion Ursa, who is always by her side. She often rides Ursa into battle, but if need be, she can allow Ursa to defend her while she takes on an attack stance with her own bear claws, which are the natural aspect of her Clan. She also has fangs, but she doesn’t fight with them unless necessary. Rait wears hard leather subligar with knee-high leather boots. She keeps her dark hair short. She fights with both brute force and agility.

Personality Traits: (Archetype)

Rait is the Nurturer: Demeter Archetype. I picked this archetype for her because the Nurturer naturally cares about the children under her care. She will put others ahead of herself, especially if those others are children. She may bestow amazing gifts to her newly assigned Splitters under her care. She has been living on eggshells her whole adult life (so to speak) always worrying about what other people need before examining her own feelings. She is driven to help people, is extremely helpful, and is a great listener. She is generous and committed. She misses her home, but she will not allow herself to return until she completes the journey south with a group of young Splitters and reaches her destination without a single loss of life.


To bring all the newest Splitters to the front lines alive and teach them a thing or two along the way.

Motivation: Why the character cares about the objective. What will be gained?

Rait cares about completing her task because as the Nurturer, she longs for love and belonging. She knows that the new Splitters under her care will care for her too. This particular job (bringing new Splitters south) is of extra interest to her because she remembers her first voyage and all the new Splitters who died along the way. Since she has started bringing groups of Splitters south, she has always vowed to do so without a single death.

Stakes: The consequences of not gaining the objective. Create suspense.

Rait’s whole identity and reason to live depends upon caring for others. She will protect those under her care, even at the risk of destroying their independence and even if she is protecting them from a danger that doesn’t really exist. She cares about not letting a single Splitter die, and every time she fails, she refuses to retire. She must have at least one trip south without a single death, or she will not consider herself accomplished in the ways of her Clan, and she will not settle down to have her own family.

Obstacles: Inner and External. Set up the journey.

Rait has to learn to let go of her attachment to her young Splitters and find her own identity. She needs to learn that being alone sometimes can be refreshing. Above all else, she needs to accept that it is time to return to her Clan. She needs to let go of her need to make a perfect journey south and instead, let others take her place and complete this task in her stead.

On the other hand, there are plenty of external obstacles in the way. She has to get a group of young Splitters to trust her enough to follow her orders blindly. She must trust herself and her own instincts in order to gain their trust, and this is a big obstacle for her. She worries constantly and second-guesses herself, and so when others second-guess her (especially the youngsters) she bristles easily and is very defensive. She knows the best ways South. She knows the dangerous areas and the safe passages. She knows that every journey is different and that there are certain things you can’t predict, but she is the best Whisperer in the Realm. She was made for this task, and she only needs to prove it to herself.


Rait has lost at least one Splitter in every band of youngsters she’s brought South. That is nine Sylvan altogether. She can’t help but feel guilty about them all. She still sees them in her sleep and her mind wanders to them during her daydreams. She sees them in the young ones she has currently under her care. She can’t let herself forget them.

Rait is most haunted by her own young journey south. She was on the journey with her best friend, who unlocked the second Chakra after she did. Her friend’s Chakra opened barely a moon before their journey south, and Rait is convinced that if her friend had had more time to train and prepare, she might have survived. Rait has a tendency to say “no” to recruits that are this green, to suggest they take another season to gain some familiarity with their powers before they journey south. She tries to say no to Oway for this reason.

Character Flaws:

Rait has fallen into a devastating depression over the deaths of the Splitters under her care when journeying South. She takes all the guilt upon herself, she can’t help it. Grief has consumed her to the point that others around her are suffering too. She needs to be needed, and so she continues to accept this tough job of bringing Splitters South. Rait hates quiet time, and must always be actively doing something, whether it’s training the new recruits, hunting for provisions, setting up camp, or going over resources to plan the next day’s tasks. She always joins the youngsters at the fire at night and though she doesn’t keep to herself, she doesn’t engage in idle chit chat either. She is constantly trying to teach her youngsters useful lessons.


Rait and Oway do not get along. She sees a bullheaded kid who will get himself, and other members of their group, killed. She fights to exclude him from the journey and leave him behind with his Clan for another season. She babies him when he won’t give in and demands to join her group. She overworks him in her effort to prepare him for the worst. She fails to see a leader in him because of all his flaws, and she fails to see his potential, or let him prove himself.


Commentary by A.C:

I love creating characters. It's why I write! Story ideas and fantasy worlds may entice or inspire me, but characters keep me going. They are what brings a story to life, in my opinion. So I have always endeavored to create compelling characters who jump off the page. To do that, I have used Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master characters for quite a while, and I swear on her book. If characters are hard for you, or even if they aren't, consider looking up her book HERE. These are the archetypes I mention, and they have proven time and again to help me create original characters who feel like living breathing people.

I have also tried something new and organized the information according to Ellen Brock's Eight Steps to Create Interesting and Complex Characters. Check out her video HERE. While this didn't so much help me with the content of my character sketches, it did help me organize them nicely.

Behind the Archetype

To be upfront, I didn't really create any of the characteristics described here (besides the physical description). Most of this is adapted straight from Victoria's wonderful book, but tailored to fit the fantasy world that I have created and know so well. The beauty of that book is that each archetype is fully realized, though the layout is different than Ellen's Eight Steps. Simplifying the information into eight categories helped me zero in and really use the archetypes with purpose. It was interesting to see how the two strategies complemented each other.

For Yarroway (who quickly became Oway) I have chosen Ares, the Warrior. I knew Oway would need to be a fighter early on, but that didn't necessarily mean he needed to be this archetype. What helped me decide to go for this seemingly cliche choice was all that archetype's flaws. I wanted Oway to be confident in his fighting ability even though he was somewhat inexperienced. I wanted him to be charismatic so he could hold the reader's attention, and so he could inspire Rait to finally obtain her true goal and be able to forgive herself and go home to her Clan. To do that, I knew I needed an archetype with a compelling reason to fight. Hence Oway's backstory, which walked right off the pages of 45 Master Characters.

Rait was originally going to be the Amazon archetype. She's a fighter too, right? But I quickly rethought her actual role in the story and decided that she should be the true main character. I want her story arc to sizzle! I picked the Nurturer then, because I knew that someone who protects and fights is compelling, but someone who protects children and fights to keep them safe is even more so. I wanted her to have a good reason for what she was doing with her life, and I wanted to give her something to reach for, even if subconsciously. This eventually grew to become a middle-aged woman who has thrown away her own chances of having children in order to protect others' kids. This became Rait, the she-bear who will defend her surrogate cubs with a ferocity that is both terrifying and beautiful. And in the end, it is Oway who will show her that her real life has yet to begin, and she need not put it off any longer.

A Note on How I Name My Characters

Naming characters is a tricky thing. I started typing this entry and immediately went for my Magical Book of Names by Phoenix McFarland, a compendium of many many wonderful names from all over the world. In this case, I opened to the middle and started flipping pages until I came across the section of magical names from the green man's garden. In a Realm based on plant life, this rang true for me. 

My character's names are never safe from the revision process, but in the meantime I know I need to call them something. I picked Yarroway, because it was a name that I wanted to use for another character in my Code Chronicles, but which I had to change. It is a variation on Yarrow, a root used for protection and courage. The meaning is there, even if the sound of the name doesn't have the right feel for me down the road.

I found Rait on the next page. It is a Druid name associated with Brambles and Myrtle, which is a very old and powerful magical name. Rait is an older woman's name, a name of someone who has the wisdom to know when to be silent and the will to keep it. Again, the meaning is nice, but I'm not sure if I like the sound of it. Nevertheless, my Magical Book of Names has proven helpful as always.

Thank you for reading!

With hopes to inspire and shamelessly plug some fantastic books on writing,
This has been another glimpse at A.C.'s desk!

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