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  • L.L. Stephens

When Characters Become

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

I love when characters surprise me. Some do so by showing up in the first place. Others change from what I originally conceive them to be and become something else entirely. Still others are planned to be integral to the story in some way but end up being edited out. What’s a writer to do?

The main character of my Highborn series, Dorilian, was originally planned to be the villain. He was so interesting, however, and complicated, and had reasons, so I gave him some rein. Next thing I know, he grows into a sort of anti-hero. He’s abrasive and not always likeable. He needs to control that temper of his. He’s entitled and rich and always sure he’s the smartest person in the room. But he is also fiercely loyal, secretly honorable, and might just be able to command a gigantic, world-spanning Entity.

Sordaneon is his origin story. I hope readers enjoy him.

I created one female character for a single scene in Sordaneon, intended to shed light on a minor aspect of the main character—only for her to reappear in the next book abd demand POV status. That was a surprise. She continued to illuminate the main character but acquired new duties due to her unique voice: she provides another perspective on not just the main character but other characters, the society in which they all move, and the novel’s greater themes.

Characters can unbecome, also. Instead of growing into more, these characters grow into less. It could be that their purpose in the story disappears. Or other characters refuse to play nicely with them. Ultimately, they just don’t work out. Sometimes two or more of them get combined into a stronger and better character.

At the end of any writer’s day, the story is about characters. Everything else in the novel attaches to them. Characters ought to surprise us. If characters aren’t surprising—and delighting, and scaring—their authors, they’re probably not reaching readers in some of the ways we authors want to reach them.

When a character simply steps into the story and makes a statement, I let him or her in. Welcome. Surprise me. Become someone. They generally do.

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