11/10/2006

Character Creation (Edited)

While creating characters for my upcoming novel, The Quest for the Armor, Part 1, I discovered I had difficulty defining and establishing the main character's nemeses and supporting characters. Simply stated, in a novel designed for Christian young adults, how evil could the characters be without crossing the line? And what level of angst, or personality flaws, could I incorporate into the characters without alienating the Christian audience?

As with all character development, the stories "likability" rests on the reader's face value acceptance of the nemeses. If I soften them up, made them too predictable or sterotypical, then my audience would be lost by the end of the first chapter. I recall reading a popular fantasy fiction series in which the author did a great job developing the lead and supporting cast. Their distinct personalities and characteristics were flawless, engaging and exciting. Somehow the author had even managed to bestow upon the young hero unbelievable warrior capabilities that, in light of the plot and supporting characteristics, were not only believeable but equally engaging.

Then, the helium slowly leaked out of the balloon of anticipation as I was introduced to the lamest villain in history. The characterization of the villain and his chronies was so typical, dry and, for lack of a better word, corny, that I gave up by chapter 5.

Therefore, the trick seemed to be finding an acceptable template, so to speak, of conflicted and confused characters to utilize their distinct traits in an effort to enhance their strength and vulnerability, while making them a very real threat to the main characters very existence. I also wanted to encode the basic principles about lifes inevitable conflict with evil, and the power to overcome and achieve through the Holy Spirit. What better template for character confusion and conflict, battle and success, than the Bible?

The obvious nemesis with whom I am very familiar, and who is presented in the short story The Marks, in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness, is Queen Jezebel. Treachery marked her life. The Bible records her actions in detail: uplifting her god, Melkart (Baal) over the God of Israel, ruthlessly hunting the prophet Elijah, slaughtering God's priests and people, plotting and encouraging murder so that her husband, King Ahab, can fulfill his hearts desire. Her actions bestow plenty of freedom to establish a ruthless nemesis.

I wanted more depth, however, more levels of confusion, so to speak, for one of the supporting characters who is both the main character's grandmother and unknown nemesis. It is obviously a tricky relationship, she loves her granddaughter, yet she went to the other side long ago. I worried that an evil grandmother might be too much for the Christian market, therefore I studied the life of Jezebel's daugher, Athaliah. A fascinating study in the spiritual deposits left by the parent, or generational curses if you will, Athaliah becomes the only female ruler of Judah, because she slaughtered her own grandchildren to claim the throne.

Regarding personal conflict and deceit to cover one's own sin, I turned to the life of David and Bathsheba, of course. The text regarding David's planned murder and the ramifications that played out on the heads of his children makes for interesting character development. Similarly, the palpable torment of Tamar, the daughter who was raped by his eldest son, creates an interesting character framework. She covered herself with the cloth of shame and spent her life a ruined woman living in her brother's house. Her destruction was so damaging that Absolom, her brother, began to seethe with hatred toward his father, sought to dethrone David and eventually lost his own life. The unraveling of their lives and their tormented reactions span the gamut and allow a broad swath of creative character development.

To develop deception, I recalled the story of Esther and the plot of Hamas. I also studied the life of both David's sons, Absolom and Adonijah, who attempted to overthrow him. Both struggled to achieve power by divisive and manipulative means and met an awful end, Absolom hanging by his hair from a tree with arrows sticking out of his chest and Adonijah ordered to death after attempting to manipulate Solomon. For a warrior of savage ruthlessness, I turned to Nebuchadnezzar's ruthless destruction of Jerusalem and the Egyptian King Necho's rule of Jerusalem from afar and the harsh suffering his rule brought on the land.

Finally, there is always the vain ruler, who received a high position because of his birthright, but is foolish to his very core. Obviously, King Ahab of Israel, Jezebel's foolish husband, fits the bill for this. The scene where he wines and moans for a desired vineyard is almost laughable. Similarly, we see him employing childish tactics to pursuade King Jehoshophat of Judah to enter war and when the prophet Micaiah first warns him not to attend the war he is arrested. Ahab's insecurities and weakness are evident throughout the scene. Similarly, King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who, after being unable to maintain a united nation, which had been foretold, and losing a large section of the nation to Israel, came under subjogation to Egypt. Egypt confiscated the vast riches stored in Solomon's temple as well as the heavy gold shields. In an unbelievable display of vanity and weakness, Rehoboam replaced the shields with fakes, bronze instead of gold, which were carried to and from the temple, presumably to keep his secret hidden.

Finally, a great character of foolishness, who I can't wait to later utilize is Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar who used the fine vessels his father had stripped from the temple of Jerusalem for a meal in which he continuously blasphemed and praised other "earthly" gods. Can't you just picture the glorious meal, with he and his guests laying on fine mats before the most splendidly decorated feast laughing at the God of Israel and a nation scorned.?Now, imagine him in a drunken stupor, amidst his wives and concubines. He glances up at the wall to see the fingers of a man's hand writing on the plaster of the wall, in an unknown language. He completely loses his royal cool and indifference, Daniel 5:6 states:

Then the king's countenance was changes, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his kneew smote one against another.

His knees actually started knocking!! What a remarkable character, what a priceless reaction. All of which can be incorporated in the development of a conceited foolhearted character, who is later stunned by the results of his own ridiculous behavior.

I discovered so many fitting tales, some I of which I had never heard before, when I relied on the Word. With these examples, I had leeway to expand or minimize the character's personalities, reactions, and situations, all within the rubric of our beliefs and guidelines. The biblical stories shaped the characters of The Quest for the Armor, and, I hope, has created an enjoyable read.

13 comments:

Aisha said...

Please accept my apologies - I wanted to edit my original post and, in so doing, found that I was unable to carryover the wonderful comment attached to the first post. If you don't mind, please comment again!!

Frank Creed said...

Aisha--
Your time-travel into Old Testament conflict is a brilliant spec-fic setting.
But the most important aspect is strong characterization. I write a longhand character profile in my notebook, but in your own chosen setting, you also get characters! This is such an obvious fiction idea, I can't believe its not been done before.
For a taste of Aisha Moore's OT time travel fiction, check out her short story, The Marks, in the Light at the Edge of Darkness anthology.
Faith,
f

chrisd said...

Aisha, I enjoyed your discussion of your characters and plots. I see that you have a real love for your characters and an interest in making them more than one dimensional.

I look forward to reading more of your work.

Andrea Graham said...

Aisha, from what I've seen of your work, it's top shelf, excellent stuff. Thanks for sharing your secrets ;)

Aisha said...

Thank you so much for reading and commenting - Frank, i have to develop some originality and try your method!, Chrisd - thanks for your kind words I hope you enjoy the final product, and Andrea-you are such a wonderful writer, you comment is more encouraging to me than you could know!!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I find that if I make big efforts to give a villain a more sympathetic or human side to him for that nicely basted well-rounded appeal, they will at times fade into a muted gray, and it can confuse the reader as to whether they are actually to be hated, pitied, or both. There are times when a villain with pure evil running through his veins is a refreshing and leads to a lot less confusion.

Aisha said...

Josh - good point, one that I will keep in mind. Simplicity and clear evil, without explanation, can be very powerful and less confusing. Thanks for commenting.

Frank Creed said...

Aisha--
I commented poorly. I meant I've never seen Bible time travel before. It's such a great idea, I cant believe nobody's done it yet. I didn't mean to imply a lack of originality. Using Biblical personalities in such stories are a strength.
Me<--shutting up before I dig a deeper hole.

Anonymous said...

Bible time travel has been done before. Check out

http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/fiction.html

Randy Ingermanson has at least three books dealing with it. And he's a great writer too.

TWallace said...

I've found that the best and most compelling villains are ones for whom we can follow and understand their motivations. As Josh mentioned, we must take care not to make them too sympathetic at the same time.

I follow somewhat the same philosophy I do when considering real life villains. We recently went through an age in which people were readily dismissed for murder, rape and even torture and dismemberment based on having horrific childhoods. What I've always felt is that the past should explain the behavior, but not excuse it. And I feel it IS very important for us to see these root origins that lead to such behavior so that we can end the vicious cycle of abuse and monstrosity.

The same goes in fiction, but on a more melodramatic scale.

You can have your crazed villain, which can be really fun and allow people to suspend their disbelief as to what level of wickedness they are capable of. You can have your misunderstood monster, who truly believes he or she is doing absolutely what is right. Although, if you describe them as being mislead, it will make them more sympathetic.

But the best villains to me are the ones who, given the free choices available to them, have taken the same motivations that the hero might have and pushed them too far, or gone off in a wrong direction. Knowing that the hero could easily be the villain is oddly compelling.

In the end, what really is a villain? What is wickedness? Ultimately I think it's selfishness taken to a dangerous degree. The pursuit of self at the sacrifice of others.

But what a novel really needs is not necessarily a villain, but an antagonist. And, if done right, that simply needs be someone who's goals are at odds with the POV character.

I suppose it's up to the writer to carefully weigh which type of antagonist works best for each story, compliments the protagonist best and ultimately makes them that much deeper and stronger.

-Tony

Aisha said...

No Frank - I didnt take it that way at all!! I just meant that I also use the biblical characters as a kind of cheat sheet sometimes, easier to folloow the described charcter arcs, or chch it for the nature of people....No apology necessary at all.

Frank Creed said...

Man, I keep finding Ingermanson references, but I've never found his books. *note to self*

Andrea Graham said...

Love the commentary on villains. Mine have a bad habit of reforming. Watched too much anime in childhood, I guess.