It’s another Wednesday and another BTS post! This week let’s talk characters. (Just like with every BTS post if you’re worried about spoilers then feel free to exit and return at a later date if intrigue strikes you but I do my best to avoid any spoilers. Trust me, as the author I really don’t want to ruin any big surprises for my readers.)
Everyone still here sure they want to read on? Cool. Forward ho!
When I write a story it all comes from a little popcorn kernel of an idea. That’s where it begins. As I wrote in my last post I tend to start with the world-building. Not always but it’s generally a strong jumping off point for me. I’m presented with a setting, perhaps a few snippets of dialogue, and then I’m curious as to the people who live there, the voices who spoke. Who are they?
I often outline with plot first, characters second, but the final product is always the opposite. My outlines are mere guidelines as the characters make their own choices and endure the ensuing consequences. It’s funny actually, and probably slightly insane, to have a story told by a voice in your head. I never feel as if I’m actively crafting a story when I write. When I outline? Yes. When I write? No.
Unlike many authors I never picture my character’s faces. To be fair I never really do that while reading either. Details of height, weight, skin color, etc. are great but as a reader I tend to ignore them and not care. While I do put forth some effort to describe the hazy mental images I have of my characters for the sake of readers who do have this weird need to know, I don’t make it a big priority. And that’s partially because of the way I write.
It’s as if a group of strangers sit behind a semi-opaque wall of glass whispering for someone to listen to their tale. When I sit down to write it’s as if I’ve found myself back in that room, squinting at the figures beyond and listening closely to their story as my fingers fly across my keyboard trying to write it all down. My outlines are useful but every once in a while I’ll get to a scene and find it thrown out or altered as the characters scoff at me saying “I would never say that” or “That’s not what happened. Just listen.”
Do I sound like a crazy person yet?
Crooked Raven is the first novel I ever wrote and it took me years to get it to a point that I could share it with the world. Part of that was simply my fear of being vulnerable and publishing it but another part of that was simply…well, it really needed a lot of work. And it’s my fault. I wasn’t listening. I kept trying to force my outline into the story even when it made my writing stutter and protest. I had an idea and I was going to make it happen no matter what. Being stubborn and deaf made the writing process a bigger challenge than it needed to be. Honestly it wasn’t until I wrote my third novel, Alarum, that I suddenly figured out how to listen and trust the characters.
I’m a writer and intellectually I know that I created everything written on the pages of my books yet that’s not how it feels. When I write I wander a maze until I find the room with my characters waiting and I become not the creator, but the recorder. They spin their story desperate to share it and I merely write it down, embellishing it a tad here and there.
So yeah. My Type A self insists on outlining and brainstorming for days on days but in the end my books are character-driven, not author-driven. I can’t force it.
I know many many authors advise combatting writer’s block by forcing words onto the page and to not give up until you’ve completed that first draft. And agree with that advice in general. But sometimes if you find yourself battling the current, trying to shove your way through a crowd storming in the opposite direction, and pulling out your hair as you stubbornly force words onto paper then maybe, just maybe, you should take a step back. Maybe the idea will go nowhere and you need to consider writing something else. Or maybe you just needed a break to loosen up and become re-inspired. But in my opinion the best ideas are the ones that flow. Sure there will be days you have to force yourself into a chair to write (Netflix tries very hard to keep me distracted from writing) but you shouldn’t have to painfully force the actual writing.
Or maybe you do and you’ve won every book award out there and hell, what do I know? Figure out your own writing style. You do you but I’m simply sharing what works for me: Listening.
Now back to the characters in this book.
Once I’d figured out the setting and what this island was I delved deeper to find the characters. I almost felt like a reporter hunting down the involved parties to figure out the who, what, and why.
I don’t generally like going into too much physical detail about my characters but for this book I let that slide since it was very important to me to get across that this was not an island of white people. The people of Oneiroi come from every nook and cranny of the earth. It was a beautiful and almost impossibly diverse place and that was something I felt was important to convey. From the setting to the names I tried to be inclusive but of course the world is wide and this is just a little sliver of story. (In the last post I included a list of the slang used throughout the series which I came up with after spending hours plucking pieces from various real-world languages).
This series is told in a few different POVs while remaining in third person. I liked the feel of third person for this series but I also wanted the story to remain mobile rather than locked in and limited to what one person saw or did. The three main POVs that the series alternates between are the villain, the hero, and the link. In Crooked Raven we get occasional glimpses into what Crown Dismas is up to, where Geoffrey has gone, and how Adrianna is coping.
Dismas is the villain in this book and we get to see the madness he drowns in. For a villain I didn’t want it to be too straight-forwards. He’s far from blameless but he’s not simply “evil” either. Geoffrey (also called Eisen) is the little boy who dreams of becoming a hero. He’s always been small and weak but when he’s separated from his sister he sets his mind on one course. And then Adrianna is honestly just the girl caught in-between. Dismas is over in Quidel being terrible, Eisen is with the Whispers being bold, and Adrianna is forced into a rebellion she doesn’t fully understand or care about but knows that she’ll do anything to protect her brother from the brewing war.
As the series continues you’ll see many characters come and go. Some will change sides, some will die, some will simply fade into the background while others take the light. A lot happens but as with any good fantasy tale there is always a villain, a hero, and those caught in-between.
So that’s all I’ll say on that. I can’t speak too much on the characters themselves because I don’t want to ruin their story but after you’ve read the book feel free to ask me questions. Down below as well as in the back of the book I include a Cast of Characters to help remind you who’s who as well as give a bit of help on how to pronounce their names (there’s nothing worse than a fantasy novel with a massive cast and/or names you go mad trying to figure out).
I’ve got one more BTS post planned for Crooked Raven before it releases so stay tuned…
Pronunciation Guide: Characters
Christophe Ammon – [KRIS-tof ah-MON] Third advisor to Crown Dismas.
Cassandra “Feuer” Böcklin – [kah-SAN-drah “FOH-ye(r)” BUR-kleen] A Swiss adventuress whom established the Crown where she anointed herself ruler of Quidel later inciting a war as Crown to expand the Crown’s rule over all of Oneiroi; First Crown of Oneiroi.
“Feuer” (German) = “fire”
Dismas – [DIZ-mahs] Third Crown of Oneiroi.
Pekka Gabor – [PEH-kah gah-BOR] Deserter of the Llyrian Army; General of the Aztlanean Army.
Israfil – [IS-rah-feel] A gifted seer of Ailill.
James – Owner of a bakery in Navitas, Aztlan; Served under Lady Morrigan during the Battle of Three Kingdoms.
Elijah Lieberman – [LEE-ber-man] A Jewish boy born in 1925 whom accompanied Cassandra Böcklin to Oneiroi; Second Crown of Oneiroi.
Sam Melanthios – [meh-LAN-thee-os] Head Warden of Navitas and General of the Aztlanean Army.
Benjamin Morrigan – [MOH-ree-gahn] Second Advisor to Crown Dismas and father of Sarai Morrigan.
Henri Morrigan – [On-REE] First ruler of Aztlan.
Sarai Morrigan – [sah-RYE] Leader of the Aztlanean Army and rightful heir to the lost Kingdom of Aztlan; Fourth Crown of Oneiroi.
Mikael Myrddin – [Mee-KEL MEER-din] Sailed to Oneiroi as part of Cassandra Böcklin’s crew and assigned as a servant and guard to Elijah Lieberman.
Ned Myrddin – Younger brother of Mikael Myrddin.
Novo Myrddin – First advisor to Crown Dismas; Son of Mikael Myrddin and younger brother to Tom Myrddin.
Tom Myrddin – Third Crown of Oneiroi; Son of Mikael Myrddin and older brother to Novo Myrddin.
Ralph Okami – [oh-KAH-mee] Born with the name Ralph Yamada in Bristol, England (but of Japanese descent); Cursed by Israfil turning him into a half-wolf half-man; Acts as a go-between for the Whispers and Titus.
Shaun Omri – [SHAW-n OHM-ree] General of the Aztlanean Army and personal guard of Lady Sarai Morrigan.
Titus – Ferries new souls to Oneiroi; Other names include: the Collector, the Reaper.
Adrianna “Leitfaden” Verdandi – [ah-dree-AH-nah “LEET-fah-den” vehr-DAHN-dee] Born in Boston, Massachusetts; Real name is Adrianna Dietrich; Served under Lady Sarai Morrigan during the Battle of Three Kingdoms.
“Leitfaden” (German) means “guide.”
Geoffrey “Eisen” Verdandi – [JOF-ree “EYE-sen” vehr-DAHN-dee] From Boston, Massachusetts and foster brother to Adrianna Verdandi; Originally named Geoffrey Martinez by a nurse who found him and turned him over to child services; Died and taken to Oneiroi at the age of ten.
“Eisen” (German) = “iron”
Aashiq Waseem – [Ah-SHEEK wah-SEEM] First ruler of Llyr.
Addar Waseem – [ah-DAHR] Current Prince of Llyr and son of Rajah Mulazim Waseem.
Mulazim Waseem – [moo-lah-ZEEM] Current ruler of Llyr.
Abel – [AY-behl] Born in Mesopotamia. Leader of the Guardian Council. Holds the power to forge loyalty.
Jack Cromwell/Fenwick James – [FEN-wick] Born in Yorkshire, England. Killed during a gang shootout a month before turning eighteen. Has the power to hit any target.
Johnny – Born in the mountains of Virginia, USA. Was a gunsmith’s apprentice and in training to join the militia. Arrived on Oneiroi after his death at age fifteen during the Civil War. Holds the power to forge metal with his bare hands.
Kevin – Born in Ireland. Younger brother to Seamus. Died in the Rebellion of 1798 at age fourteen. Holds the power to move objects with his mind.
Kofi – [KOH-fee] Died at the age of thirteen as a child soldier in Somalia. Has the power to control/communicate with animals.
Medusa – Hails from Sparta, Ancient Greece. Arrived on Oneiroi at the age of sixteen after her death as a virgin sacrifice by her village to their gods. Has the power to force a person to speak the truth.
Ping – Born in China during the Shang Dynasty. Xià’s twin brother. Holds the power to manipulate the mind.
Sasha – Once a ballerina in Russia achieving semi-fame before her death in 1935 at the age of sixteen. Has the power to hypnotize.
Seamus – [SHAY-muhs] Born in Ireland. Kevin’s older brother. Died in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 at age seventeen. Holds the power to control the weather.
Xià – [SH(y)AH] Born in China during the Shang Dynasty. Ping’s twin sister. Holds the power to heal the body.
[and other Whispers who wish to remain unnamed]