Jennifer Estep — Characters, Oh, Characters


Oh, characters.
You are the reason that we read books in the first place. We love you, and we love to hate some of you.

Sometimes, folks will ask me which comes first—the character or the story. Like everything else when it comes to writing, it just depends.

Black WidowIn my Mythos Academy young adult series, one of the first thoughts I had was this: what if there was a girl who went to a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Amazons, Spartans, and Valkyries? What if that girl discovered that she was more of a warrior than she ever thought possible? What if she discovered that she was the key to defeating the bad guy? In that case, the character of Gwen Frost and the overall story and setting of Mythos Academy sort of came to me at the same time.

But, since I write in first person, most of the time, the character, the heroine, comes to me first.

For my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series, I knew that I wanted to write about a kick-butt assassin, but it took me a while before I figured out the story and setting. In that case, the character of Gin Blanco and her mixture of toughness and vulnerability was the first thing that really spoke to me. She was the thing, the idea, that interested me, and then I built the story and setting of Ashland around her.


But whether the character or the story comes first, once I have that first nugget of an idea, then I’ll Poison Promisestart sketching in the rough outlines of my heroine. What kind of magic does she have? How can that magic grow and change over a series of books? How can she use her magic to defeat the bad guys? What are her likes and dislikes? What are the things that are most important to her? What are the things that she considers worth fighting for?

You answer those questions, and you are on your way to creating the core of your character.

Then comes the fun stuff. I also like to give my characters hobbies and interests that readers can identify with and that tie in with the story and setting. Gwen loves to read comic books and visit her grandma. Gin might be an assassin, but she also enjoys cooking and reading. I think it’s those little touches that readers can really relate to and that give your characters more layers, meaning, and depth. Plus, everyone has something that they’re passionate about, so it makes sense that a character would have that too.

Killer FrostSo you add the hobbies and interests to the core of your character, and I think you have a pretty interesting individual—and hopefully, someone that folks will want to read about again and again.

What about you guys? Who are some of your favorite book characters?

Twitter:  (@Jennifer_Estep)


Jennifer Estep is a New York Times bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea. Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. She is also the author of the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

Poison Promise, the 11th book in the Elemental Assassin series, will be published on July 22. Black Widow, the 12th book, will be released on Nov. 25.

For more on Jennifer and her books, visit her website at You can also follow Jennifer on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter – @Jennifer_Estep.


7 comments to Jennifer Estep — Characters, Oh, Characters

  • Good morning, Jennifer!

    Being able to identify with a character makes the story more compelling for me as a reader. One of my favorite characters is Brendon Doyle from Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates. He’s an academic who learns that everything he thought he knew about the world of the past is not quite true, and what he doesn’t know could be the death of him. When his world turns sideways, he doesn’t have the skills to deal with what happens, so he takes desperate chances while figuring it all out. I’ve found myself in situations like that (although without any time travel or evil clowns, thank goodness!) so I can identify with someone who has to work within an unfamiliar system just to set things right again.

  • TwilightHero

    Mat Cauthon, from the Wheel of Time. I loved that guy. Though the series is full of characters of lowly stature rising to greatness, his story had him playing so many disparate roles. Rogue, charmer, spearman, general, bearer of anti-magic and consort of rulers. I’ve always admired characters who are adaptable, who seem like they could fit in anywhere while staying true to themselves, and Mat Cauthon had that in spades. He just seemed so…original.

    And then a few months ago, recalling the ravens etched on his spear and the accompanying verse – ‘thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades’ – it hit me that he was based on Odin. Shows how much I know 🙂

  • Twilight: I still don’t know what happened to him after the building fell on him. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Mat was one of my favorites too. Yeah, I know that was a long time ago, but my aunt was the one getting the books and I sort of lost track when I moved far away and then she died and…and… 🙁

    Another was Wil Ohmsford from The Elfstones of Shannara. It was the first massive book I ever read and introduced me to epic fantasy beyond D&D. I saw the cover and wanted to know more about that scene. I think a lot of publishers have gone away from showing scenes from the book on the cover, and it saddens me. I wanted to know why they were there against that door. I wanted to know immediately who those characters were.

  • Ken

    Thinking back, the ~very~ first character that grabbed my attention was Simon Smith from Tom McGowan’s “Sir MacHinery”. Here was a guy that had his world turned completely inside out (A scientist that finds out that magic is real).

    More recently: Harry Dresden, Ethan Kaille, Rachel Morgan…there are sooo many of them.

  • Razziecat

    I have a lot of favorite characters, but I’ve noticed that sometimes the most intriguing ones aren’t even the main character in a story. Take Waldo Butters from the Dresden Files. He’s more comfortable with dead bodies than living people; he’s into polka music; he’s awkward and shy, and seems pretty silly at first. As the series progresses he develops courage, confidence and daring, and even ends up with a lover; he’s not silly or shallow at all. Another of my favorites is Osriel, Carol Berg’s mage/king from her Lighthouse Duet. He’s such a mix of conflicting elements; courage, ruthlessness, integrity, kindness, an implacable will. And he’s not even the MC, but I found him fascinating.

  • TwilightHero

    Daniel: Wow, that WAS a long time ago. He hadn’t even met the Daughter of the Nine Moons yet 🙂 I once came across a rumour that among his other WoT outrigger books, Robert Jordan was planning one starring Mat in a new setting, post-Tarmon Gai’don – can’t say more without spoiling things. If true, it makes his passing even more sad. We’ll never know what could have been.

    I liked Wil too. I could never really get into the Shannara books – they just seemed so derivative. To be fair, I only tried them long after I started reading fantasy, far too late for them to make any formative impact. I was probably a bit jaded. But if I had to choose a favorite, Elfstones would be it.

  • Tom G

    Croaker, the Black Company series. Series fell about after him.