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Thoughts on Writing – Combining Characters Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about a couple characters of whom I decided not to combine in Distant Horizon, and why. Today I’m going to talk about a couple characters who I very well might combine into a single, hopefully stronger character, in The Shadow War.

I’ve been plotting for The Shadow War (book two after Magic’s Stealing) for a little while now, and when I was telling Isaac about some of my ideas last week, he suggested that I consider combining two of my characters who will be introduced in the second book. Let’s take a look at the characters in question: Nihestan and Shalant.

Both characters are secondary. They’re important to the plot, but they’re not main characters. Each serves to aid the character of Daernan (Toranih and Daernan each have their own point of view in this story), but in different ways.

Nihestan Nivasha is Cirenan-born, a weapon’s mage, and has dealt directly with Shevanlagiy and Lord Menchtoteale (the bad guys from the first book). Nihestan also works closely with Madiya, the goddess of the dead (who features more prominently in the Cantingen patheon than Cirenan) and he leans toward the immortal spectrum thanks to a run-in with unicorns. (Unicorns aren’t exactly the friendliest creatures in the Cirenan universe).

In the current draft, Nihestan plays the role of a cynic, always watching the world and being wary of the future… mostly because he got a glimpse of the potential damage that the Wishing Blade could do (his weapon’s magic allows him to see potential and past acts of violence within an object). He’s actively trying to thwart Isahna, the trickster god, and has been undercover for many years to protect his family.

He also knows a bit about how glass-stone works (though he’s still trying to figure out the finer points of the confounded stuff), which is one of the reasons that Daernan gets involved with him.

Then there’s Shalant. He’s Cantingen-born, a word mage, and something of a seer. Daernan first runs into him when he goes to the temple in Ashan, where he finds Shalant using his word magic to help the high priestess after the stealing. Shalant acts as an enthusiastic (if slightly wary) mentor. His knowledge of the gods and (word) magic often comes in handy, and his ability to use word magic is crucial in fighting the shadows. As a seer, he knows a bit more than he should (especially regarding Shevanlagiy), and he’s spent some time working with Nihestan on the mage’s glass-stone project.

Now, the problem I was having is that many of the scenes I plotted in my head could work well for both Nihestan and Shalant. Other than their cynical versus enthusiastic personalities, and their ribbon versus word magic capabilities, they play similar roles.

There’s a particular scene I’ve been planning that involves a confrontation with Shevanlagiy, one which works similarly well with both characters.

If Nihestan confronts her, he uses his knowledge of glass-stone and weapon’s magic against her. But now that I’ve been thinking about it, I need to decide whether or not he’ll still have that magic. He has been working with the gods, and he knew the stealing was coming, so there’s a chance he could have prevented his magic from being lost.

If Shalant does the confrontation, he doesn’t have any personal stakes (other than potential foreshadowing for a future series idea that I have in mind), but his scrying would have given him insights that Shevanlagiy would prefer he doesn’t know… including a weakness that she herself doesn’t fully understand. The problem is that I’m afraid his character would open up the story to a new plot line that I’m not ready to delve into. I like the idea of bringing this guy’s character in, but I’m not sure it’s necessary for this particular story.

The two characters were getting lost in the crowd.With so many characters, I wasn’t sure what each one was doing at any particular moment.

So, when Isaac suggested that I try combining Nihestan and Shalant, I began picturing the resulting character and liked the result.

First off, Nihestan’s last name, Nivasha, sounds more Cantingen in origin than Cirenan, and vice versa for Shalant. I’d been toying with the idea that Nihestan had converted to the Cantingen pantheon at some point in his past, and the idea of combining these characters solidified that. He could have originally been Nihestan Shalant, and later taken the last name of Nivasha after his dealing with Madiya (or one of her agents). Thus, we would still get some insights into the Cantingen culture without pulling the main story too far off track (again, I’ve got that sequel series brewing in my head–though it will probably be a while before you see that–and it will likely deal heavily in Cantingen mythology).

Second, their combined knowledge would allow Nihestan to play a mentor figure… even if the person he’s mentoring is skeptical of his motives. It also stands to reason why he knows so much about Shevanlagiy, since he’s worked with her before, and his vast knowledge of things he technically shouldn’t know about would come from his time spent working with the gods.

Third, Nihestan as both a ribbon and word mage… whew!

He’s going to be a tough cookie in a fight. Seriously. Even if he’s without his ribbon magic, he would have word magic at his disposal… and perhaps be able to achieve a few plot points that I don’t want to spoil here.  The first book has a few lines of foreshadowing that could easily reference his character. Not only that, but he might actually be able to keep some of his ribbon magic through the use of word magic, since he already expected the stealing to come.

This allows the confrontation scene with Shevanlagiy to work smoothly. This version of Nihestan has personal stakes in the matter, and the ability to be a threat.

Fourth, I don’t have to keep track of who is doing what. The tough part comes if these two characters are doing completely separate actions, but I don’t think there will be too many problems there.

The other problem, however, is that where Shalant is playful, Nihestan is cynical.

Merging the personalities might prove tricky. Most likely, I’ll keep some of my original ideas of a younger Nihestan (who has a more carefree attitude), while giving him the wary outlook that comes with what he’s seen and knows.

As for Shalant, he may appear again in a different form with a different name… as he was apt to do in my plotting. (Seriously, in my super rough draft from many years ago, Shalant was an arrogant god who mentored Daernan mostly because he needed someone to represent the immortals… and had fun watching Daernan fumble. Very different character. I’m considering making a darker version of that character into a small-time antagonist for Toranih. Maybe. Not sure yet. We’ll see if it serves the plot).

I haven’t decided if this is the route I want to take, but I’m giving it serious consideration. Overall, I think the story will be stronger for the merge.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever combined any of your characters?

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Thoughts on Writing – Combining Characters Part 1

One of the writing tips I’ve heard for making stories stronger is to combine characters. Theoretically, combining characters cuts down the number of supporting characters (thus making the cast easier to remember) and makes for a stronger single character (by bringing in conflicting, but often interesting behaviors).

When I was working on Distant Horizon, a YA science fiction novel I’m co-authoring with my husband, Isaac, a suggestion we got from one of our beta-readers was to combine two characters who both played the role of a mentor. Ultimately I turned down the idea, because each character had conflicting backstories that I wanted to be able to bring in later (though that isn’t technically a good excuse–somewhere I read a similar train of thought about a Wheel of Time character, but I can’t remember which article that was).

However, by realizing how similar the two characters were, I realized how important it was to differentiate between them if I chose not to combine them.

Let’s take a quick look at these two characters, Pops and Jim, from Distant Horizon.

Pops is the main character’s grandfather, though she knows him for the same length of time as Jim. He has the wisdom of experience from working with the people he now fights, and he wants to protect the main character from those people.

Jim, on the other hand, is older than Pops, and he’s never worked with the bad guys. He knows the time from before the bad guys took over, and thus, he took on the role of the rebel’s historian.

Both characters are mentor figures, and in my earlier drafts, had a tendency to convey repetitive information.

I needed to determine what made each separate character crucial to the plot, and why I wanted them to be different characters.

One reason was their respective eras.

Pops grew up during a time when the bad guys had almost full control of their territories, but their reign was still uncertain. They were no longer seen as the bad guys, and thus, Pops took part in helping their agenda. He grew up familiar with the earlier uncertainty where the lack of jobs and money were a problem, and he understood the promise of the coming “Community ideals.” But in his work he’s seen the darker side of the Community, and while he still values the ideals, he no longer supports the bad guys. While with them, he trained as a scientist who studied powers, and so he is the resident expert.

As for Jim, he grew up in the age of superheroes (relatively similar to our world, but with powers). He saw the fall of the Super Bureau, and the fall of the free world. He is familiar with the concept of democracy, various religions (which were largely wiped out by the bad guys) and freedom. He was there to watch the world spiraling out of control, and he was there at the founding of the rebels’ group. He’s seen the change of eras. Paralyzed from the waist-down in his early days, he no longer fights direct battles, but he provides useful information regarding the past as it was… and how the bad guys have covered up that past with lies. He is the only surviving member of the Super Bureau.

Each character has several similarities. But they are also different. When the main character wants information regarding how the bad guys act from within their ranks, she should go to Pops. When she needs more information on powers, she should go to Pops. When she wants comfort in the Community ideals she believed in, she should go to Pops.

But when she wants to know why this rebel group behaves as they do, she needs to go to Jim. Only he can give her the dynamics that neither she, nor Pops, can fully understand. When she wants information on the world as it was, and might be yet again, or answers that don’t involve the Community’s dark secrets, she needs to go to Jim. He has a different perspective than Pops, and unlike Pops, who is jaded from the world he’s seen, Jim still has some lingering hope within the sadness of everything he’s lost, in part because of how he was raised.

Now, would it be possible to combine these characters? Probably. The ages might change. The new character might have been a superhero trained in the science of powers who worked for the bad guys for a while, then quit for reasons that are revealed in the story. The new character would still be a mentor, but due to the change in backstory, how they see the world–and how others see them–would be different.

It’s not quite what Isaac and I were going for. There’s a certain symbolism we’re hoping to achieve through the two characters, and they each have different outlooks on life. Maybe the story would have been stronger if they were merged. Maybe it wouldn’t.

For now, I’m planning to keep them separate. But having considered merging them helped me to consider what made them stronger separately.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and next time, I’ll be talking about a couple characters I’m considering combining in The Shadow War. 🙂

Have you considered combining any of your characters? Why or why not?

EDIT: You can read the second part of this post here.

 

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