Character Development – Show Me – Jane and Beast

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DARK HEIRHey Everyone! Long Time No POST!

Back in (gasp) January 2009, I wrote about character development and how I created and developed Thorn St. Croix for the Rogue Mage series. (That was about the novels BloodRing, Seraphs, and Host ) But I can’t find where I ever did a post on how I created Jane and Beast in the Jane Yellowrock series. New book, DARK HEIR, coming out April 7th, By the way.

If you’ve ever heard me on a panel or teaching a seminar on character and character development, you’ve heard me say (probably ad nauseam) Your character has one great strength and one great weakness. The weakness makes the conflict worse, the strength and developing strengths saves the character and resolves the plot’s conflict. This is called the marriage of character development and conflict.

 

There are specific, identifiable parts to strength and weakness Characterization…. These are called TRAITS. Traits fall under several categories: Human or Natural Traits, Typical (even stereotypical) Traits, Individual (non-stereotypical) Traits, and Moral or Social Traits. When I build a character throughout a book or series, I am always building upon these traits.

 

Jane Yellowrock’s strengths and weaknesses:

  1. Human or Natural Traits: Are always here selfish, based on fear and unmet need. As a child of five, Jane witnessed the murder of her father and the rape of her mother. As most children do, who go through something like this, Jane internalized the blame. This makes her feel guilt at a very deep level. Worse (SPOILER) she helped her grandmother track, capture, and kill the bad guys. She took part, at her grandmother’s urging, in meting out justice. Later in life, Jane woke up with amnesia, having forgotten everything, but still carrying the guilt she sis not deserve to carry. Kids are like that. They hold onto traumatic memories, or the effects of the trauma, in PTSD that can last a lifetime. Because of the trauma and the amnesia, and due to a complete lack of social skills (amnesia again) Jane grew up lonely, with commitment issues, a big mouth, and a penchant for violence. And then there’s Beast… Beast is a second soul Jane incorporated into herself not long after her father was murdered, in an accidental act of black magic. Beast is a mountain lion soul, an apex predator, and a very opinionated big-cat. Beast pushed Jane toward violence in ways that are beyond human.
  2. Typical Traits: These are representative of a group. Jane is a Cherokee skinwalker. Following a shift into an animal form, she needs huge amounts of food, because her magics depend on energy from food calories. She has the golden skin of the Cherokee, the height of her father, the long black hair of her childhood. She looks tribal American.
  3. Individual Traits: These traits are peculiar to one character, the non-stereotypical and personal traits fall under this heading. Jane is different from most skinwalkers because she has Beast. With Beast, she can draw on the increased speed, balance, leaping ability, and night vision of the puma concolor. Even in human form. When she fights, she has increased speed, strength, and healing. All these are a-typical traits of her species.
  4. Moral or Social: Read here unselfish. These are the traits that keep the human tribe together, like loyalty, or courage, or self-sacrifice. Jane loves her godchildren and her friends and is fiercely loyal to them. This love and loyalty are both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. She is brave in battle, has little fear, is loyal even to those who hurt her, gives her word and means it, stands behind it. And she is generous despite her violent past.

 

Next week, I’m writing more about how characters, using Jane and Beast, and how good characters develop and change. But for now, if you are a writer, take a look at one of your characters and see how they fit in with the character traits here. Feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll check in and comment back!

 

Faith Hunter
www.faithhunter.net
https://www.facebook.com/official.faith.hunter

 

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5 comments to Character Development – Show Me – Jane and Beast

  • Hepseba ALHH

    A bit late but I’ll play!

    1. (Selfish traits) Lutha Korsson is a bit of an outcast and a loner, so, while he grew up in – and still lives near – a small, close-knit community, he has very little of the community spirit that his neighbors expect from him, has little interest in taking on responsibilities he doesn’t think belong to him, and has little patience with his family when he thinks they’re interfering in something that’s none of their business.

    2. (Typical traits) He’s the youngest child of farmers, and is a woodcutter and trapper by trade, so, though he lives very much alone, he does a decent amount of work with his family, helping on the farm during planting and harvest, and getting help from his brother-in-law in the summer for some of the larger timber hauls.

    3. (Individual traits) He’s always been of a scholarly bent and when he was younger traveled to the city to study, but found eventually he didn’t much belong there either. In his spare time he works on a set of manuscripts for a local bestiary and a collection of local folklore, hoping to preserve the old stories he loves (which helps when he comes across magic).

    4. (Unselfish traits) His travels and his perspective as an outsider have lent him a pragmatism in the face of both oddity and hardship. Despite their differences, he cherishes his connections to his family and will persevere to maintain them and keep his loved ones safe.

    (and because I’ve got two principal characters)

    1. (Selfish traits) Iesha Korsdaughter grew up in a large, but very cold family. Though she is the eldest of many sisters, after her mother died and her father disappeared she left as soon as she was able. She does not tolerate confinement well, and finds her comfort most often alone and wandering out in the world.

    2. (Typical traits) Iesha is a Speaker troll, descended from a long, unbroken female line. As such she appears human but has a tail, and has the power to shape living things with her voice. Without bonding to a mate, however, her magic is unfocused and sometimes dangerous.

    3. (Individual traits) Having been closest to her father, who was born human, she associates a lot more with humans than most trolls. However, because her magic is dangerous and tied first to her voice and only second to her will, she is effectively mute, not daring to speak and injure those around her.

    4. (Unselfish traits) Despite her parents’ loveless marriage, she maintains a sense of hope and (silent) laughter. Though she cannot save her father from his past (being turned into a troll) she strives to make it up to him by not following in her mother’s footsteps, and has the strength of will necessary to carry out that promise.

    Sorry that was all so long. I have to admit, I have a terrible time thinking in terms of my characters’ weaknesses, and then, when I define them have a hard time linking them to the plot without making it all too heavy handed. Is there any chance you might share a thought tree linking Jane’s weaknesses to a plot point in one of your books?

    Happy book release!

  • Razziecat

    This is a fascinating exercise! I’m working on space opera stuff at the moment, so here’s a snapshot of one of my commanders:
    (1)“Human” or natural traits: Keth is cocky, arrogant and combative toward authority; he lost his mother at 15, which caused his father to be overprotective toward him, and he pushed back. Has had a somewhat adversarial relationship with his father ever since, and this led to a bad relationship with his CO, who he viewed as overly cautious. Keth is daring and sometimes doesn’t respect danger (perhaps he’s daring fate to get him as it “got” his mother?), and doesn’t always respect people who risk less than he does. He pushes too hard, goes too far, and resents any challenge to his authority as a commander.
    (2) Typical traits:
    To his people, family is of utmost importance. Keth loved his wife and unborn child without reservation, so when he lost them to an act of war, he felt as though he no longer had a home (he literally never chose another home onworld after his home city was destroyed, and lives on his ship). He’s got the typical physical characteristics of the majority of people on his desert planet: Red/brown coloring, lean but well-muscled.
    (3) Individual traits:
    He has a sarcastic, mouthy streak, but he is loyal to family and friends, to his homeworld and to the fleet (a sort of merchant marine group). He’s smarter than he seems to be, keeping a lot of odd bits of knowledge in his head; he’s a skilled electronics engineer (early training before getting a command of his own). He is competitive and self-confident (mostly). He also has a chronic nerve disease that causes pain and fatigue, and has to learn to accommodate it when necessary, which is teaching him patience and compassion for others.
    4) Moral or social:
    Loyalty, courage, daring (this one is a weakness sometimes); determined, open to learning new things, willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves and serves. Fair-minded even when he really doesn’t want to be.

    I’ll have to do this with my other characters as well. Congrats on the book, Faith! 🙂

  • Very interesting, Faith. Thank you. I don’t think I’ve read about Strength and Weakness Characterization, broken down into Traits, it sounds interesting. Although I admit characterization is one area I have been slower to research. 🙂 Would you recommend a specific writing craft book for further reading on this topic, or is it purely from your experience? (which I admire immensely, no slight intended!)

    Book already pre-ordered. 😀 Can’t wait…

    My character: Clay. A gunfighter from the Old West caught in a gritty, NightSide-like world.

    Human or Natural Traits (selfish): He was once responsible for protecting his girlfriend, and failed. Betrayed, and the girl murdered. Clay carries that guilt, trying to push away similar relationships, but lonely, and when he does connect he is desperate to protect them better than he did her.

    Typical (even stereotypical) Traits: Deadly with a gun (with the small disadvantage that most guns don’t work in his new world). Somewhat old-fashioned morals of the West, tinged by cynicism and worldliness. He believes that he should be held to a high moral standard, even though he is aware that most don’t meet it, and he has low expectations of others.

    Individual (non-stereotypical) Traits: Battles the ghosts of his past, and so can be reckless in following what he thinks is right. But not always clear on what that is. Sometimes susceptible to the persuasion of others, who seem more confident in their moral code, and have fewer doubts. He has failed, but keeps trying.

    Moral or Social Traits. He wants to be a good guy. He is brave, decisive, resolute, once he takes a stand. But doesn’t view himself as a hero, since he’s failed too many times.

    Thanks again!
    Adrian.

  • This is a great way of breaking it down, Faith. I’ll give it a try, as I find I need to re-ground myself in who my character is as I write Book 2. (And though you’ve said you’ll be addressing character arcs, this sounds like a useful exercise all the same.)

    Selfish traits: When she was five, Janni witnessed her father’s murder (*cough* this is convergent fiction evolution, I swear) and escaped her uncle’s attempt to kill her, too. She’s grown up with a fear that she’ll be found and killed, since before this, she was the sole heir to her father’s throne. Although she now realizes that she has to do the responsible thing and take it back, that fear remains, and she delays taking action as a result. As she grew up, she learned to use her healing powers, and she finds it very difficult to kill. Being raised by the village healer, who was a single woman who lived apart from the rest of the village, she didn’t socialize much as a child. She’s used to observing from a distance, and even though she cares about helping others, forming friendships is difficult. As a healer, she has been raised to expect a certain amount of respect from others, which can increase her standoffishness in the rare times when she doesn’t get it.

    Typical Traits: Janni is a landmaiden (the name for healers). She travels in service of the Land on her journey, though it puts her at risk of discovery.

    Individual Traits: She’s of mixed heritage, being three-quarters Nemish and one-quarter Bandian. Though her skin is pale, her dark brown hair hearkens back to her Bandi traits, which she cherishes. In addition to her healing gift, she has some elemental air talents, powers which were exploited in the previous book and which are causing erratic, life-threatening problems for her now. She’s also been singled out by the Land, who sends animal avatars to guide her toward reclaiming her throne.

    Unselfish Traits: In the first book, Janni realized she couldn’t selfishly hide from her royal past. She recognizes that she must become the queen. As a healer, it means a lot to her to be able to help others. She’s loyal to the friends she does make. And she’s willing to learn new skills in order to be able to help.

    This was great! Stopping to take stock about what’s driving my character has been *most* useful. 🙂

  • These were great, Y’all!