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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Worldbuilding: Northern Environments in Fantasy

This is a pretty specific and borderline nitpicky topic, but hear me out. Instead of focussing on what authors might do that is “wrong” or “doesn’t make a lot of sense”, I’m going to give options, explanations, and things to consider. I’m also going to focus on it from character perspective even though this is a worldbuilding topic.

Northern environments in fantasy worlds is often used in fantasy writing. Lots of the action happens there. Why, I don’t know, but I dig it. So we’re going to go into stuff that might help shape your northern environments.

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Character Clothing

I know, I know. Why would I make a whole post about something so inconsequential? Isn’t it bad news to describe a character’s clothing?

Yes and no. As with anything, it’s execution. But, I think, especially in fantasy, describing clothing (when appropriate) can be helpful for a few reason.

So let’s talk fashion.

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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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Dark Fantasy

This is a genre that’s been popularized, I think, by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones based on his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Personally, I love the sub-genre. There is something beautiful and sublime in tragedy. Ever since I first read Hamlet as a kid. Even Romeo and Juliet is pretty damn dark, despite how much people dislike the play and how many mediocre productions butcher it.

Dark fantasy plunges to new levels of suspense, tension, authenticity, and fear. It gets our hearts racing and then broken over and over.

So let’s talk about it

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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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