The Facets, of Character.

What elements lend life to imagined character?

Katie Salers, a young lady I had the good fortune of meeting on Twitter, recently published a review of Beltamar’s War. I am sure she would appreciate it if you’d pop over to her blog and read what she has so generously shared.

In her review, which I enjoy and appreciate a great deal, Katie raised some important points about Malmaxa. I would like to focus on one question in particular. Namely, why does Malmaxa present such a large cast of characters? I’ll try and answer without revealing any spoilers.

More than anything, Malmaxa is about people.

As individuals, people are complicated enough, yet what really makes us who we are is not ourself. We are who we become because of our interactions with others. It is our perception of their actions that shape the raw gem of our inherent personality.  Each interaction polishes our personality into the multi-faceted, ever changing jewel our character becomes. Considered in that way, were we to interact with only a single person, the finished jewel of our character would only have a single facet. And perhaps more than anything else, that single facet would be a mirror of the person with whom we interacted.

That is highly unrealistic.

In reality nobody is limited to acquaintances with just one or two people. Yet in literature we artificially constrain our antagonists and protagonists to few interactions. Why? To keep things simple? What a terrible motivation! Do we truly think so little of our audience that we limit our writing to simplistic views, and even more simplistic characters?

In life itself there are more colors than black and white, yet in many books those two shades are often all that is required to classify any character dwelling within. Why not allow the individuals that fill the pages of literature to blossom, gradually revealing the spectacular variations of color, texture, and shade dispersed throughout humanity?  Real people have depth, and real characters, though imagined, should also be deeper than a shallow pool.

Katie’s review made mention of specific character development in Beltamar’s War several times. I’d like to highlight two instances in particular.

The first was Katie’s mention of Adelmar, the antagonist, of whom she said, “I actually loved them all. Even Adelmar. I hated him for a bit. However, something changed. I became interested in him. I wanted to know more about him.

In our lives nobody is simple, even the people we dislike the most are incredibly complex. Indeed, we might find ourselves wondering why they are as unpleasant as they are.  Or perhaps we might look at that coin from its other side and ask ourselves why we dislike them as much as we do. We might even question whether the apparent failing lies within them, or with us.

The second instance is where Katie insightfully mentions the aspect of forbidden love between Faroene and Beltamar. Katie notes that Beltamar is matched to Daniskira and goes on to say “Normally this would bug me. Here, it didn’t. I wanted to know more.” Earlier in her review Katie said this, “I really do not even know what genre Beltamar’s War is in… Fantasy?” Great point, Katie. The overriding reason I framed this tale in the guise of the Fantasy genre, is that it encourages the reader to step outside of their normal, comfortable, safe, and ultimately judgmental box in order to examine ideas that would normally be taboo.  Fantasy allows the reader to loosen the reins and consider thoughts with a mind more open than usual – and in wanting to know more about something she would normally abhor, Katie has done precisely that.

Our world is divisive. We are trained from a very young age to look on anyone who doesn’t approach life the way we do with deep suspicion. In fact, we’re so effectively primed to be prejudiced against difference that we don’t even realize we’ve been trained! For Malmaxa to work, the reader needs to throw out their preconceptions of how people should behave, and instead focus on why they behave the way they do.

In Malmaxa, I try to plant the desire to understand motivation. I hope to have the reader opening a dialog with themselves in which they say, “I can see where they stepped wrong, but now I want to understand why they don’t realize they have.” That Katie vindicates my efforts truly delights me.  She sees how one of the most troubled people in Malmaxa is more than a monochromatic monster.  Katie also recognizes taboo behavior, but rather than judging it out of hand, as we are so prone to do, she struggles to understand why.  Thank you Katie!  {Please don’t misinterpret this as my advocating any particular behavior.}

In reality, people are extremely complicated. Shouldn’t it be likewise in literature?  I believe characters should have the opportunity for more than superficial depth. And thus the apparent plethora of characters in Malmaxa. Every named individual in the tale has purpose.  Every one of them is the grit upon which others polish their facets, gain their depths, and reflect their vision of light back onto everyone with whom they interact.

To me, character is much more than a one-dimensional reflection glimpsed from a flat mirror. Character is a precious, multi-faceted gem into which we must peer deeply if we are to appreciate its real beauty. My writing uses the mechanisms I’ve discussed in trying to achieve this depth, and thus the large cast of characters. Of course, it is entirely up to Malmaxa’s readers to decide if I am successful. I wonder if it is even possible to be successful, or whether my ambition in this regard has made me overstep my bounds.

Finally let me say that I would be happy for you to judge my efforts, though I’d be as unhappy for you to judge me.  If you’re tempted, then why not start reading Beltamar’s War right now, right here on my blog in your web browser?

About C.G.Ayling

Musing misuser of words, lover of lyrical literature, author, occasional contrary thoughts. An honorable man’s name, in memoriam.
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6 Responses to The Facets, of Character.

  1. Very intriguing piece. I agree, that each character should absolutely have depth and be multifaceted, much the way people in real life are. Maintaining one-dimensional characters would certainly make things more manageable in terms of writing for each character, but isn’t the purpose and goal to present as much realism as possible? To make the story so believable, that the reader forgets that they’re reading a fantasy-laden tale. It would be hard to be judgmental, I presume, if the reader is dangling back and forth between fantasy and realism. I’d say the successful combining of these two elements in a body of work is quite the balancing act and undoubtedly makes for an awesome read!

    • C.G.Ayling says:

      I think the exact line that divides Fantasy from Reality should be indeterminate. When we immerse ourselves in a good book, we should be able to suspend our reality and enter the book’s. If characters within the work are simplistic one or two dimensional entities, then we don’t perceive them as people, and if we don’t believe they’re real, then the book has failed to immerse us into its alternate reality.
      We have to be able to believe the characters are real. The only word that springs to mind to adequately describe a universal trait of all people, is complex.
      Thank you for commenting, Sylvia! 🙂

  2. Dave Grigger says:

    on the topic of “success”
    in my eyes you without a doubt are.
    writing a book (not my genre) that i not only fell in love w/by page 80
    but also so much so i had to turn around & immediately re-read it.
    never EVER have i done so, and i read a LOT of books, and i only read
    ones i like. if you can’t capture me, you will not be able to drag me to the end.
    katie & the others that have written reviews are also testament to your “success”

    • C.G.Ayling says:

      Thank you, Dave. It really saddens me that the material world seems to be winning the battle, which means that people are losing.
      I just don’t understand how people can’t grasp that while money can buy you a ton of distraction, it cannot buy you an ounce of happiness.
      When did we forget that a smile from someone we love is more precious than a luxury car, and that a tear from them is more hurtful than said car’s loss?

      Words like yours are what makes this worthwhile.

  3. Katie says:

    I have a reviewer’s crush on you, Mr. Ayling. An admiration that developed while living in Malmaxa. I have told you before, that after reading this amazing story, that I will never read a book the same way again. You have destroyed me and my simple mind. Now I long for the complex, the stimulating and the abundance of characters that you so wonderfully create. You are a hard working, attentive, and concerned author that does his best to write a story to captivate and consume his readers. You want our brains to wind and twist in ways we are too lazy to do on our own. I didn’t realize how much of a lazy reader I was until I read Beltamar’s War. Now I read this. and…. wow. You write for a purpose. You write so that your readers are transported out of reality and into a fantasy that becomes their reality. So many people need books to escape their minds or their lives, for just a short time. So they can focus on a fun adventure are a glorious battle. Thank you for being you. Thank you for writing the way you do, and not becoming lazy so that lazy readers will read your work. One day, those lazy readers will read your words, like I did, and be transformed. Everything in our world is becoming simple, easier… including our books. You write against the flow, when so many authors write with it.

    • C.G.Ayling says:

      Katie, after reading your words the first thing that sprang to mind were words and thoughts revealed in the section titled, “To So Desire”. At risk of appearing pretentious, allow me to consider your words from another perspective. None of the deeds you so generously attribute to me, are mine. They are yours, and they have always been yours.
      I believe one of our most fundamental needs as human beings, is our need to understand. Sadly, I think our world discourages questions of this nature. We are no longer molded to be thinking individuals, but compliant automatons by a society which serves corporations before it serves humanity.
      Beltamar’s War didn’t fill you with a desire for understanding, that desire has always filled you, and your review proved that by showing an amazing depth of insight. My only role might have been to highlight desires you never knew you had, and that makes me very proud. Thank you.

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