Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Responsibility as a Writer: Realistic, Human Characters



Nothing is more important to a novel than good characters. The theme may be visionary, the descriptions exquisite and the plot breath-taking, but without good characters it “ain’t good fiction.” Period.

The hero of my "Leonidas Trilogy": Leonidas of Sparta

Nor can we, writers, really create characters – not good ones. We can create cartoons that stiffly toddle across the pages of our book, or we can cut-and-paste from other works, or even use pre-fab creations that everyone instantly recognizes: the beautiful seductress, the clever detective, the sensitive misunderstood child, the evil step-mother etc. etc. But the author who relies on these will never write good fiction.

Brad Pitt's Achilles transformed the Greek hero from a comic figure to a human.

Good fiction requires good characters and good characters are as complex as human beings. Of course, only God can create humans, and writers are not God. We are at best disciples and prophets, interpreting God’s word, describing his creations – inadequately.  But the better we are at understanding humans, the better we will be at describing them. And the better we describe them as unique individuals, the better will be our novel. 


                        


 

The hero of my Jerusalem trilogy is a baron of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: Balian d'Ibelin






And just as humans grow-up, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes (or fail to do so), good characters are neither perfect nor stagnant. Good characters have flaws, and good characters change in the course of a novel. Only ancillary characters should be essentially the same at the end of a novel as they were at the beginning. While this is most pronounced in novels spanning a longer period of time (like my biographical novels), it should be true even of a novel covering only a few months, days or hours – because those few months/weeks/days/hours must represent a significant event for the central characters or the novel has no credible plot. My Battle of Britain novel, for example, only covers the months of May to September 1940, but for the characters it a pivotal period. Another novel could describe no more than the day September 11, 2001 – but it would only be a good novel about that day, if the key characters are different in a significant way at the end of it.


The pilots on the cover are "B" Flight 85 Squadron -- some of the real heroes of the Battle of Britain
And good characters – really good characters – will never leave you in complete control of the plot. They will take the bit in their teeth now and again, and run away with you. When your characters do that, when they start shaping the novel for you, you know you have a good cast of characters. From then on, your job becomes one of directing and coaching rather than dictating. It is always a wonderful moment! 

Three key characters of the book are on this cover: Richard the Lionheart (left), Saladin (right) and Balian d'Ibelin in the center.
 
Today's blog is part of a Rave Review Book Club event featuring different author's ideas of their role as an author. If you are interested in joining this fun and supportive network of authors please check out our website at: Rave Review Book Club.

1 comment:

  1. And all this time I thought all you needed were good fight scenes. LOL

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