Joshua Palmatier — Character: Taking Control


SHATTERING THE LEY:  Character:  Taking Control

Welcome to my second guest post here at Magical Words!  Thanks again for having me, guys.


I’d like to focus on characters, now that the main promo push is over.  (You did run out and buy SHATTERING THE LEY, right?)  As I said in the previous post, when I described the setting for LEY, having a great idea or setting isn’t enough for a story.  The world of LEY had been simmering inside my head for quite a while, but it’s necessary to take that cool idea and make it come alive with the intervention of some cool characters.  For this world, I knew that one of the main characters would have to be someone who could manipulate the ley lines that powered the city.  If that’s the central element that makes my world different, I needed someone who would be working intimately with it so the reader could experience it along with the character.  I wanted the reader to delve into the world as much as possible.  Enter Kara Tremain, a Wielder of the ley.  Here’s Kara’s introduction to the reader, the first few paragraphs from the book:

“I shouldn’t be here,” Kara Tremain murmured to herself, even as she turned the final street corner and came within sight of the stone walls of Halliel’s Park.  She halted and bit her lower lip, her body trembling with a strange mixture of apprehension and danger and excitement.  The leather belt that held her schoolbooks hung heavy on her shoulder and she twisted the strap beneath her hand.  She glanced up and down the street, catching glimpses of the park’s open gate through the throng of people and wagons that passed by as the city of Erenthrall bustled around her.  One of the ley-powered floating carts skimmed by, Kara’s skin prickling with ley energy, and she frowned after it, distracted—the carts weren’t typically seen in the eld District; no one here could afford them—but her attention didn’t waver for long.  A flash of power from one of the lit globes above the park’s entrance drew her gaze back to the gates.

It was midafternoon.  Her morning classes had ended nearly an hour before.  Her father had wanted her to come directly home to help him with one of his projects.  But the park. . . .

The stone walls called to her with a low, persistent hum.  They drew her, pulled at her, as if she were flotsam caught in the river’s currents.  She didn’t understand what it was, but knew that it made her different—from her fellow classmates, from her friends, even Cory.  She didn’t want to be different . . . but the hum thrilled her at the same time, made her catch her breath, made her feel alive.

So that’s Kara’s intro.  I could have probably written an entire book with Kara as the main character, but I realized that there was a ton of interesting stuff going on with the Baron and the politics behind the use of the ley, and Kara wasn’t going to be privy to such things (not without some unbelievable contortions to the story that would scream author intervention).  So Kara wasn’t going to be enough.  Enter Allan Garrett, a new addition to the Baron’s guard, called a Dog.

Of course, knowing I needed such characters and then having those characters actually come alive in the story are two different things.  So the real test for me, an organic writer (meaning that I don’t plan anything much out, just sit down and start writing), is to sit down, start writing, and see if these characters take control of the story.  Basically, to see if they even have a story to tell.  So I started with Kara.  I plopped her down into her world and just gave her free rein.  And damn if she didn’t take me somewhere.  *grin*  In my head, this first book is really Kara’s story.  She’s the MAIN main character.  She gets caught up in the interplay between the Baron and the Wielders, the struggle for who is truly in control on the ley.

But when I did the same thing with Allan, I discovered he had a much larger story than expected.  In fact, his story evolved and changed into something totally unexpected, more so than Kara.  Initially, he was just supposed to be a Dog, revealing the underpinnings of the politics and undercurrents between the Barons.  He wasn’t supposed to do much more than that.  But then he met this woman (in his first chapter no less, talk about characters taking control immediately), and suddenly he wasn’t just a guard.  He had a love interest, which caused difficulties with his job, and suddenly his story wasn’t about politics any more, it was about HIM.

And that’s what has to happen for me in order for the book to work.  The characters who show up when I sit down and write need to take control and in some sense become unpredictable.  They create the story, and the story grows and becomes something alive.   They can’t just be placeholders, like a guard or a Wielder.  They have to move beyond that.  They have to have friends and family and real-life issues and struggles.  What I’ve found in the past is that if this happens, if they seize control, then the story becomes richer and more detailed, and the plot becomes much more complicated and intriguing.  Thankfully, that happened almost immediately with this book.

But plot is something I’ll have to reserve for the next post.  *grin*  For now, I hope you delve into the characters in SHATTERING THE LEY and follow Kara and Allan on their journey.  I certainly enjoyed the ride.

BenTateAuthor Bio:  Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  His upcoming novel SHATTERING THE LEY (July 2014, DAW) is the first book in a new series, set in the same world as his “Throne of Amenkor” series.  He is also the founder of the new small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, which will focus on producing quality science-fiction and fantasy themed anthologies.  It’s first anthology release will be CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, currently in the production phase, to be released sometime before July 2014.  Joshua has also published numerous short stories in various anthology.  Find out more at and

Social Media Info:
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4 comments to Joshua Palmatier — Character: Taking Control

  • Joshua, I think that opening did a great bait and hook for the reader. There is a quickly identified age-range of the character, and an instant danger we know she is facing.
    Excellent work!
    Shattering the Ley is on my Kindle for a rainy afternoon read.

  • Faith: Thanks! Openings are always tricky, especially when you are introducing an entirely new world to the reader. You can’t say, “Look at this! Isn’t that cool?” because the character has always lived there and likely doesn’t think it’s cool. To them it’s hum-drum and everyday. I find it’s best not to try to point things out, but to just have the characters living there and let the reader simply think, “Hey, cool!” if something strikes them.

  • Razziecat

    I agree totally with this post! 😀 My favorite part of writing, the thing that makes me keep doing it, is when the characters surprise me. When I sit down with the beginnings of a story and say, “Let’s see where this goes,” the words seem to flow all on their own. I still need to revise and rewrite, of course, but the main ideas are there, the feelings I want to evoke are there, and the characters are showing me things about their lives and their world that I never imagined.

  • Probably my favorite part of writing as well, Razziecat. Except maybe typing “the end” on a story. That’s pretty good, too. *grin*