TUESDAY WRITING TIP – CREATING THE MAIN CHARACTER FOR A FANTASY SERIES

Today we welcome Ian Irvine on his blog tour to promote book 3 in his Grim & Grimmer series. Ian has generously agreed to share his writing tips based on how he created his quirky and endearing main character, Ike.

Hi Dee, thank you for the opportunity to visit your blog and talk about my humorous fantasy series for children, Grim and Grimmer, and how I wrote it. I hope everyone finds it interesting and informative, and a little bit of fun as well.

1. Some really bad things seem to happen to Ike, like being forced to eat maggot soup and having to win contests against lying cheating, desperate dwarfs. Have you drawn from personal experience when creating his character?

I suppose so, though not deliberately. Ultimately, the only person a writer can really know is himself or herself (assuming the writer isn’t prone to self delusion, and many are, but not me, lol). Thousands of people would have touched my life in some way or another, over the years, but even those family members and friends I know best, I only know from the outside. The one person I can know from the inside is myself, and so, in a way, every one of my characters (male, female, animal, beast, alien, ghost or whatever) is created by drawing on aspects of myself, my life and experience, and then changing it to suit.

Having said that, gruesome food is a feature of many of my children’s books, and this is certainly inspired by meals I’ve had in my travels. For thirty years I’ve been a marine scientist working on pollution problems. I’ve worked in a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region and on these jobs I’ve eaten some astoundingly horrible local dishes. Since I had to suffer, I also like to make my characters suffer, ha ha.

2. How did you find the ‘voice’ for Ike – the things that distinguish him from other characters? Did he just arrive one day and speak to you or did you have to spend time with him, peeling away the outer layers to see what was underneath? Or perhaps he is based on someone you know?

Ike isn’t based on anyone I know. I never base characters on people I know, or have read about, because I like to make characters up myself – it’s part of the fun of writing. Besides, all the characters in the Grim and Grimmer books are rather eccentric, if not downright weird, and I don’t know anyone weird enough to qualify for a place in these books. (Note to self: must get out more.) To create Ike’s ‘voice’, I spent a lot of time working him out and trying to understand him – and once I felt that I did, I just ‘winged it’.

3. How have you made Ike a character that readers will engage with?

I believe the most important storytelling task is to find ways to get readers to relate to the characters, so that when we read the story, we personally feel the emotions of the viewpoint characters as though we were there. We identify with these characters, and this is a deep and powerful need in all humans. It’s why, when we watch the news about a disaster on the other side of the world – a tsunami in Japan, say – the factual reportage is broken up by interviews with survivors. Only by hearing their tragic or heroic stories can we identify with such a distant event, and it’s the same in storytelling.

To identify with the hero, the writer has to uncover his or her true character, and the best way to do this is through conflict ­– by putting the hero into difficult situations where he’s forced to make awful choices that reveal who he really is.

This is what I’ve done with Ike. In the Grim and Grimmer books, Ike is always in conflict with someone, whether it be the imp Nuckl who wants to eat his liver, the Fey Queen Emajicka who is desperate to steal Ike’s nightmares, the desperate dwarf Con Glomryt who is using Ike to try and return from exile, or Ike’s dearest friend, the apprentice thief Mellie, who is so different that they hardly ever agree on anything. Each of these encounters puts Ike to a difficult choice, and each is another step on his path from Useless Ike at the beginning of Book 1 to Ike the Hero of Grimmery at the end.

4. A character’s greatest quality can sometimes be their greatest flaw. Would you say that’s the case with Ike?  What do you see as his greatest flaw?

Ike has so many flaws that it’s hard to pick on one, the author chuckles. At the beginning, his greatest flaw is that he thinks of himself as Useless Ike, a kid who is hopeless at everything. But then, in Mister Flogger’s classroom just before Ike is expelled, he realises that he can’t go on like this. He has to change and make something of himself, and this is the choice that leads all the way to his transformation at the end.

Ike’s greatest virtue is that he’s really enthusiastic, and never gives up, but the reverse is his recklessness; he acts on impulse without thinking things through. He often has a good idea and immediately acts on it rashly, as when he decides to run down to save Princess Aurora in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, but gets it wrong and accidentally betrays her to her enemy, the Fey Queen. Also when he takes the trioculars in the middle of the night, after Mellie has warned him not to, and the Fey Queen realises what a danger Ike is to her. And when he rashly becomes a night-gaunt to save Mellie, only to almost kill her; and when he makes the disastrous wyrm-dung fuelled rocket that explodes and nearly wipes them both out. He’s always doing it.

5. How did you decide what Ike would look like? Did you use a picture, a photograph, did you draw your own picture – or is he just a product of your imagination?

He’s a pure product of my imagination, I’m afraid. Occasionally I’ve attempted to sketch characters but it’s never been very successful. Unlike Ike, I’m not much of an artist. I wanted his physical appearance to mirror his inner self, though. Ike’s tall with big feet and a big nose, not at all good looking. He’s lanky, clumsy and uncoordinated, and no good at any kind of sport, but he’s strong and good-hearted, qualities which carry him through many dangers to his final transformation.

6. Do you have trouble making bad things happen to Ike or are you one of those authors who loves being mean to their characters?

I’ve always believed that if the characters are having a good time, the reader isn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of happiness, fulfilment and joy – of course there are – but for most of the book Ike and his friend Mellie are in dire trouble and physical or emotional pain. Or both!

I like to make my characters suffer, to put them through every trial and indignity that human ingenuity can come up with. Ike even dies in the second book, The Grasping Goblin, after the mad hermit Gorm forces him to pick up a piece of frozen lightning. Alert readers will realise that, since Ike appears in the third and current book, The Desperate Dwarf, he must have been restored to life somehow, and this is all set up beforehand so that it’s not at all miraculous.

7. How did you decide which Point of View to tell Ike’s story from? Did you experiment or did it just happen naturally for you?

The story is told entirely in the third person, from ike’s point of view. In the Grim and Grimmers, which are mainly for readers in the 9-14 age group, I did not feel that more than one viewpoint was warranted (though there were times when I regretted not being able to tell Mellie’s side of the story). I might also have used first person from Ike’s point of view, and it might even have worked better and been more involving. Perhaps next time I will.

8. Do you have any tips for new writers about how to create a character like Ike?

There are many ways of creating characters – for example, completing a character checklist (many such forms are available on the net and can be googled up), or doing an in-depth interview with the character, for example. But I get bored filling in forms (it feels too much like hard work) and I don’t like interviews much either. Character creation also depends on the kind of story you’re telling – for instance, a humorous adventure series like Grim and Grimmer does not need the deep characterisation of a human drama.

I work out a few fundamental points about a character (eg: what are Ike’s most fundamental needs – To survive? To save his friend Mellie? To clear the names of his dead parents?) and have these colour everything he says and does.

Another important point: every character in the book has to serve a purpose, and there should always be some kind of conflict or friction between them every time they meet or talk. This reveals another detail about the character. No character should be there just as a decoration or diversion, or merely to provide some piece of needed information.

Thank you, and I look forward to your comments and questions.

Ian Irvine

Thanks, Ian for some great insights into how you write and how to create a great character. If you have a question or comment for Ian feel free to write it in the comments section of this post.

Ian is touring his latest Grim and Grimmer tale, The Desperate Dwarf and on his travels he is visiting these great blogs:

March 21, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/

Kid’s Book Capers                                    Review and competition – 3 BOOKS TO BE WON!

March 22, 2011                                         https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Dee Scribe                                                  Writing Ike’s Character

March 23, 2011                                         http://bloggingwithianirvine.blogspot.com/

Our Lady Of Lourdes School                 General Writing

March 23, 2011                                         http://tristanbancksflow.blogspot.com/

Tristan Banck’s Blog                                Creative Process/Workspace

March 24                                                     http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

Kid’s Book reviews                                   Top 10 Writing Tips

March 28, 2011                                         http://www.robyn-campbell.blogspot.com/

Robyn Campbell                                        About the writing life and this book

March 28, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I enjoyed most about writing this book

March 31, 2011                                          http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I found hardest about writing this book

April 6, 2011                                               http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com/

DC Green                                                     Where the character and story ideas came from

April 11, 2011                                              www.buginabook.com

Bug in a Book


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16 thoughts on “TUESDAY WRITING TIP – CREATING THE MAIN CHARACTER FOR A FANTASY SERIES

  1. Thanks Dee and Ian for this fabulous interview.
    Love the insights into Ike, the MC and his many flaws.
    Love the gruesome food too.
    Kids will love the Grim and Grimmer series.

  2. Very interesting post, Dee and Ian.
    What does a frozen piece of lightning look like, Ian?
    I suppose I’ll have to read the book.
    Hope the series goes well.
    Alison

  3. Thanks Karen and Alison, and Dee too. Frozen lightning can only be found by the seventh sight of a blind boy, but touching a bit is invariably fatal. Poor Ike, how he suffers.

  4. Love the interview tips, and am an Ian Irvine fan!

    I completely agree about writing characters that people can identify and relate with, it’s something that I am continually learning to improve.

    Only on my second novel, I don’t have Ian’s pedigree, but it feels great to actually know exactly what he is talking about.

    I wish Ian would visit my blog LOL he would be very welcome.

    Nice post, looking forward to more.

    Peter Koevari

  5. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for dropping in. I’m an Ian Irvine fan too:) Writing is an evolving process isn’t it? It’s always great to hear how other writers work.

    Hope your second novel is going well.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  6. It’s nice to hear from you Peter, and I found the post on your blog about the coming ebook revolution most thoughtful and interesting. All the best for your writing career.

    Ian

  7. Great interview Ian and Dee! Great post Dee..Ike certainly sounds like a unique and quirky character.
    Kim

  8. An accidental hero – yes, that’s exactly Ike. He starts out with no self-confidence, believing he’s totally useless, and the first few steps he makes to take control of his life only seem to confirm that assessment. But a good heart and a ferocious determination to make something of himself takes him a long way, especially with the help of some great if quirky friends. He’s one of my favourites of my heroes.

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