by Helen Lowe
On October 28 I said that The Heir of Night (Heir) is definitely all about the characters, especially in relation to the “Big Idea” I had discussed on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog a little earlier. Writing characters is challenging and exciting and fun—but it’s a real blast when readers start writing and telling you what they like about your characters.
In that last post, I talked a little but about the Earl of Night in the context of reader feedback, but today I got an email from Tarran, at the Angus and Robertson book store in Adelaide, Australia telling me that: “The thing I really like about … [the character of] … Kalan is that he has not lost his spirit even though he has become a person his whole family despises. He still has hope and kindness in his heart.”
Another reader also liked the heralds of the Guild, who have powers “…and are not afraid to use them,” finding them “… perhaps the other 2 most interesting characters of the whole book (the other two being Malian and Kalan.)”
Different readers, different perspectives—but as a writer I am rewarded to find readers being drawn to a range of the characters that appear within the book, especially since there are two principal characters (Malian, the Heir to the House of Night, and Kalan) and at least eight that count as “major.” These include the heralds of the Guild—Tarathan of Ar and Jehane Mor—and the Earl of Night, Malian’s father, but there are others, at least one of whom is dead (although without being a zombie, a vampyre, or a ghost!)
One of these “majors” is the Honor Captain, Asantir, who also gets a strong “like” from several readers but who arrived in the story relatively unexpectedly for me as the author.
The original Honor Captain was only conceived as a minor character, but relatively early in the book’s development I decided that several of the characters had names that were too alike—and the Honor Captain’s was one of the first to change. I played around with a few options, but as soon as I wrote down the new name of “Asantir”, which I thought “sounded good”, the whole character transformed immediately: looked different, had a very different back story and basically told me that she was a major character. And I had better sit up and take notice!
What I learned from this—but should have known given the number of Fantasy stories based around the concept—is that names are powerful and changing them can be a dangerous business. Needless to say, whenever I think about changing anything about a character now, from name to hair color, I always do so with extreme care. Because characters, it seems, just like real people, have minds of their own—but perhaps that’s because, if I’m doing my job right, within the pages of the book they are real people: they have to be, in fact, in order to live for you on the page.
Helen Lowe is a New Zealand-based speculative fiction writer. Her new novel, The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night, Book One) is published in the USA/Canada by Eos and is also available in Australia/New Zealand. (It will launch in the UK in March 2011.) Helen’s first novel Thornspell (Knopf, 2008) won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel: Young Adult” 2009, and Helen won the Award for “Best New Talent” in the same year. In addition to guest posts on Out of this Eos, Helen also blogs on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground and every day on her own Helen Lowe on Anything, Really site.
For more on The Heir of Night, you can check out two great new reviews, one on Specusphere and the second from Tarran—who liked the character of Kalan—on the Angus & Robertson blog in Australia, here. Or just read the first 70 pages yourself and let us know what you think.