#amwriting: prying the character out of the idea

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013I am searching for my character.

Technically, I know his name, and I know what he has to do. I also know why he has to do it. When and where this will all occur is also well-established.

But who is he as a person?

I have several backstories of him as a young boy, but they don’t shed any light on him as a man.

In the Tower of Bones series, he is legendary, a man with a flaming sword who was a superhero. Children’s books are full of the tales of Aelfrid Firesword, a man who lived over a thousand years before the time in which the Tower of Bones series is set.

Alf is a man whose parents survived the chaos of the War of the Gods, and from the ashes of that post-apocalyptic world, he carved the Temple of Aeos and the College of Warcraft and Magic. I know why he has to do that, and what he will sacrifice to accomplish it.

But this story is about him as a young man, and details the incidents that pushed him to the breaking point and forced him to leave his comfortable backwater existence and build a city in the wilderness.

I know who his antagonists are, and what makes them so dangerous.

I know what makes two of Alf’s sidekicks tick. The third sidekick, not so much, but she’s getting there.

I know who will die, why they will die, and why it is important that they die.

I also know who Alf will marry, although he doesn’t know that yet.

I know how this epic fantasy will end.

I know what everyone’s magic gifts are and how the use and abuse of magic threatens them.

So, the story arc is in place, and all I have to do is write to it.

Still, in the opening pages, I can’t quite get a grip on who this protagonist, this mythical man, Aelfrid Firesword. Before the inciting incident, before his comfortable life is forever changed, what does he feel passionate about? What does he want? What makes him get up every morning? Right now he’s just going to work at his forge, pounding on hot metal all day, and then getting drunk at the Dancing Goat. He’s got magic, and he forges weapons that are pretty extraordinary. When he has to, he can fight.

That’s not very heroic. There has to be more to this guy.

So, I need to write some backstory, some side quest that will pry him loose and shed some light on the man in the tin suit. This is back material that will most likely never make it into the novel per se, but it will help flesh him out, make him fully formed in my mind.

So, now that you know what I am doing, I will let you go, while I run off and try to find this guy.

He’s in this manuscript, somewhere.


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6 responses to “#amwriting: prying the character out of the idea

  1. Stephen Swartz

    Let him tend a garden, during which a bunny appears. He has a brief conversation with the bunny, let’s it go free. Perhaps his supervisor (relative) chides him on letting the bunny go when the bunny is always eating the vegetables of the garden. He gets mad at that supervisor, and vows to . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David P. Cantrell

    A drunken ironworker. I can relate. At one time, I made a living making wrought iron. My inducement to change course came on a hot summer day when I looked up at my much older co-worker. Dripping sweat, he wiped his forehead with a somewhat clean shop cloth and lit a cigarette. I saw my future as if I had looked into a magic mirror. I enrolled in college the next month.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is of course a problem that every fiction writer faces. You voice the dilemma well. You know everything there is to know about your character’s actions, the level of risk they are willing to take on, the quest they will pursue, and even how it turns out. But who are they, really? One thing that I have found useful is to decide what value absolutely attaches to that character, then couple that with subtext: unexpressed desires, unrequited needs, the hidden darkness in the character’s soul. When you figure that out, look for moments of pressure where these features are likely to push to the surface. What I don’t like to see are authors forcing a character to become an assemblage of consequences from past events, as if ABC in the past equals XYZ in the now. Character’s are more complex than that. Anyway, you are certainly asking all the right questions. Good luck.