Darkness and Light (And The Shadows Inbetween).One of the best aspects of writing is getting to know the characters that live in the world that is being created. Some of them reveal all of their secrets at once, others take a lot longer to show what is really going on beneath the face they first show to the world, but every single one of them carries a lifetime of experiences just waiting to be explored.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a simple character. It should not be easy to slot people into boxes labelled ‘good’ or ‘evil’, because people are not like that in real life. Everyone has different layers to their personality. How they are perceived by others relies heavily upon the aspect of that personality they choose to display most of at a particular time, as well as the preconceptions of the person meeting (or reading about) them.
In the Wintercraft stories, everyone keeps secrets. Everyone is hiding something from the people around them and they all have good strong reasons for the choices they make and the actions they take. Some of those secrets only come to light later in the series but, along the way, it is up to the reader to judge the characters’ actions and decide if they are friend or foe.
When I first started writing about Kate, for example, I knew she was a good person with the potential for a darker side, thanks to her family history. She is the character in peril at the very beginning of the story. We want her to get away from the wardens, help her uncle and save the day. All we know about her at that point is that she is in a terrifying situation, she is concerned for the wellbeing of others, and so we want her to escape. We want Da’ru Marr to fail because she is threatening Kate and her methods for getting what she wants often cause other people to suffer. It does not matter that her motives for sacrificing the few in order to protect the many could be seen as positive attributes in different circumstances; she is against the character we want to like from the beginning, so we dislike her. She becomes the ‘bad guy’ and we feel her eventual fate is well deserved. But is it?
What if the story had been written from Da’ru’s point of view? She may not be a selfless woman – far from it – but her actions could be made to appear heroic. She is on the brink of giving Albion the edge in a war that has already cost too many lives, only to be challenged by a girl who has only been using the veil for a few days and a man who carries a serious grudge. From Da’ru’s perspective, she is acting in defence of her country. Silas Dane is a traitor and Kate is the enemy. If Da’ru’s story had been told instead of Kate’s and it was spun in a certain way, we may have been able to root for her instead. I always try to look at characters from both directions. Every one of them could be someone’s hero and someone’s villain. There is no pure darkness and pure light.
Silas Dane is the perfect example of this. He can be vicious and merciless. He ruins lives and takes lives, but despite all that, there is something about him that is likeable. He appears to be cold and heartless in the beginning, but as he reveals about himself and his past, it becomes easier to forgive the behaviour that appeared so terrible when he first arrived. All I had to do was let him tell his story and he overturned any expectations I had of him in the beginning. He began to feel more like a person than a ‘villain’. I hope readers can see that too.
I have spent a long time thinking about the people of Albion, mapping out their lives and throwing them into situations just to see how they will react, but there is one piece of the puzzle that no one can predict or control. The key ingredient to any character will always be the person who is reading the story. Every person filters what they read in very different ways. One reader may like attributes in a character that other people will loathe, and they will usually identify more with someone who shares their values and morals than one that does not. That is all part of the magic of books. The characters reveal aspects of themselves through their actions, but it is the reader whose imagination fits it all together and makes them come alive.
There is a place in my heart for all of my characters; from the insane and murderous Kalen, to Kate Winters and Silas Dane themselves. I don’t believe that anyone in the story set out to be good or evil. In their own minds, what they are doing is completely justified, no matter what the consequences. The question is: can they convince the reader that their motives are true? If they can, they will be the hero, if not, the reader will turn against them, and some of the most interesting characters in fiction fall somewhere inbetween.
Every character is the product of what their lives have made them. They are all someone’s son or someone’s daughter. But are any of them truly good or truly bad? That is for you to decide.