When Good Characters Go Bad

What makes a character a “bad” character? Not bad in the moral sense, but where the character falls apart in the work itself.

I’ve been thinking about this after discussing this recently, and I think it’s important for all works of fiction, and equally so for fantasy. Fantasy often has specific things that lead to characters turning awful and unreadable. So let’s dive into it.

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Text and Subtext in Dialogue

I studied theatre. All we have in theatre is words on a page, it is up to the actors and directors to figure out what the hell the characters are actually saying.

Shakespeare didn’t deal a lot in subtext. The characters say exactly what they mean unless it’s made explicitly clear to the audience that the character is lying or something. More modern works have a ton of subtext. It’s a great tool for writers and very fun.

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How to Make Characters Sound Different

I think making characters “sound”, for lack of a better word, different when they speak is a lot harder in genre fiction than it is for other forms of fiction. If you’re writing  a story in the real world in the modern day, the reader can more easily pick up on how a character sounds based on region, ethnicity, language background and so on.

When you’re writing genre fiction, all of that goes out the window. The reader, at first, has no clue about this world. The various nuances of speech in this world become unfamiliar.

So how do we accomplish making character sound different without beating a dead horse?

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Ages in Fantasy (And Other Work)

I was once writing a non-fantasy book in which one of my POV characters was in his 30s and had to have an argument/fight with a teenager. The problem I ran into was, why would a full grown adult in modern society get so pissed off at a teenager he wasn’t related to? The character was a well-adjusted, mature, level-headed adult.

This is just one example of the issues writers run into when writing characters of different ages. I love it when books, especially fantasy, have different aged characters. I think it helps the world come to life and we see how the plot has an impact on different aged people, and how different aged people understand the goings on.

But at the same time, I think fantasy tends to do this thing where young characters are just too mature. I’ll get more into that, but let’s start already.

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Introducing Characters (in Fantasy)

“In fantasy” is in parentheses, because technically this can apply to any fiction if you wish.

Character introduction, whether it’s in the beginning or middle of the story, is huge. It may seem small, but if your goal as a writer is to say “this person stands, out remember they are important” that can be harder to pull off than may seem.

But don’t fear. Let’s talk about it.

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Language and Speaking in Fantasy

If you’re writing fantasy, I’m guessing you’re creating your own world. Unless this is some kind of “Other Earth” scenario, historical fantasy, or science fantasy that involves our actual Earth. Otherwise, you’re going to be doing a lot of world building.

World building isn’t just terrain and continents. It’s culture building, and with culture, there’s language. Problem is, you have to tell it in a “real world” (living) language.

With that, let’s dive into language in fantasy. This is not going to be a language building post, but more of a how to use language in your writing. I’ll cover more on language building in another post.

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