Philippa Ballantine: Character as a Portal


Today we present the delightful New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa Ballantine!  Pip is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series, and the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences with her husband, Tee Morris. Dawn’s Early Light is the newest book coming March 25th. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice, and a Sir Julius Vogel. She currently resides in Manassas, Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a furry clowder of cats.  Welcome, Pip!


pip_long hairOne of the most common compliments I get about my books is that people love the characters I create, and I honestly cannot think of a nicer comment to receive. Every time I get it I smile very broadly.

Ever since I was a young reader, characters were the thing that drew me into a story so completely that the real world disappeared (whatever the real world is…). I learned to see events through the eyes of people I wanted to spend time with. Through them I could experience and feel things I had not yet felt, or might never feel—like say riding a dragon!

However the characters that I loved the most didn’t have to be perfect. In fact I prefer them to be broken, flawed, and make terrible dawnsearlylightchoices. I loved it when a character made me scream at the open page ‘why are you doing that?’ because it meant they were real. I am sure we can all think of people in our lives you make the kind of choices that make no sense to us.

I am also intrigued by characters that suddenly get power of some kind and how that affects their personality. In most fantasy books there is a character who ends up in that situation, and how that changes them can be an intriguing journey. In by Books of the Order, Sorcha Faris is an older character, in her late 30s, and has been a powerful wielder of magic. I wanted to reflect how that can bend and warp a person, so Sorcha in the first novel has plenty of flaws. She’s prickly, she’s arrogant, and she most definitely is not happy being lumbered with a rookie partner. From such set ups, conflict and plot arise, and that is what makes writers—and hopefully readers—excited.

Yet no character can live in a vacuum. In the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, the interactions between Eliza and Wellington, are some of the most fun scenes I have ever written. My husband and co-author, Tee Morris and I love writing the banter between the two characters. The things they say to each other, the miscommunications and misunderstandings that occur between them push the plot forward. In Dawn’s Early Light, this drives Eliza to some rather extreme instances that I hope will make the readers laugh and gasp in equal measure.

Just how characters work against each other makes them more fully rounded. I always think of their family and friends, and what issues they have with them. Are they happy where they are, or do they have lofty goals that might well be doomed to failure? Mapping the cracks and flaws in a character is one of the most satisfying part of writing.

My fondest hope is that readers find my characters intriguing and remember them long after they close the page.


Pip can be found all over the internet!


Twitter: PhilippaJane  BooksandBraun

8 comments to Philippa Ballantine: Character as a Portal

  • Wonderful to see you here, Pip! Thanks for joining us at MW. (At some point we need to get Tee here as well — he is one of my very favorite people.) A character’s best qualities might win the day at the end of a book, allowing her or him to overcome the villain and restore happiness to the world. But like you, I enjoy playing with my characters’ flaws and quirks. Those are the things that draw me to the characters in the first place and make me want to tell their stories. Nice post, and again, very nice to see you here.

  • Okay, I’ll admit it…I was just a bit fangirly when Pip agreed to come over here and be our guest! And I agree with David – it would be super to have Tee Morris be our guest sometime, too! 😀

  • Razziecat

    All the posts this week are just so incredibly cool! Hi, Philippa! (Seems a bit cheeky for me to call you Pip 😉 ) I totally agree that great characters can make or break a story, and that flawed or broken characters are much more interesting and fun than “perfect” ones. I almost always think of characters first; and their personalities, problems, and relationships are what creates the plot. Definitely going to check out your books!

  • Welcome, Philippa, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on character here at MW! Wow – we’ve had a great bunch of posts this week from a superb cast of guests! I hope you (and all the rest) like the place and decide to stick around! Would love to hear more from you!

  • Cool post, and I can relate. I do love the more broken characters, those that are incredibly flawed. I’ve always been a big fan of Moorcock’s Elric because the character was just so messed up. I’m writing something where the character started out flawed but virtuous, but after getting his abilities (or curse), he’s having trouble dealing. By the end of this book he’s going to become a lot darker as a result. In the next book he’ll have to trust his friends to help him come back from the brink while dealing with his next case.

  • Razziecat

    Daniel, what a blast from the past! The Elric books were one of the first fantasy series I ever read. I remember haunting the bookstores waiting for the next one to come out! I even had memorized some dialog (Elric’s of course) and if cosplaying had been around back then, I would SO have dressed as Elric (keeping in mind I’m female, that would have been a little weird, but so what…;) )

    Pretty sure my penchant for damaged characters owes at least a little to Elric.

  • Razziecat, I read one a day when I was in high school between study hall and home. I actually have other of the Incarnations of Immortality, like Hawkmoon and such.

  • And if I could afford the contacts, I still would cosplay as Elric. Though I still also have plans to cosplay as Blix from Legend. 😉