R.S. Belcher talks about characterization

Rod Belcher (c) David Hungate of Dominion ImagesToday we welcome Rod (R.S.) Belcher, author of The Six-Gun Tarot which I recently enjoyed and recommend to you. (Here’s my review.) Rod wants to talk about why you love your favorite fictional characters. One commenter will win a copy of  The Six-Gun Tarot

One of the elements of my book that has been getting a lot of good feedback from readers and critics has been the strong and well-developed characters with whom I populated the tiny town of Golgotha, Nevada in 1869. I thought it might be fun to discuss what makes a character great. What makes a character believable or sympathetic, or even hated?

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsAs I started each new chapter during the writing of Six-Gun, I would do a synopsis and try to flesh out the backstories of the characters that chapter introduced as much as I could before I ever wrote the chapter. If you look back on your favorite books they all have strong, well defined and “realistic” characters — people you felt you got to know and became invested in their story. How did the author get you there?

There are only so many stories, so many plots out there. It’s the job of the writer to create a new variation on an old theme, and most often, in my opinion, that happens through the characters. Who are your favorite characters from books? What makes a character live and breathe for you as a reader?

Thanks for letting me drop by and say hello. I enjoy talking to folks and I can be reached through my author website, by email at sixguntarot@gmail.com and through my Facebook pages: Author R.S. Belcher and The Six-Gun Tarot.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. Outside of the fantasy genre, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite characters. She is brave and scrappy in a precarious situation, she is witty and acerbic… and she is also not perfect. Her own faults (stubbornness, holding grudges) make her kind of endearing.

    I was having a conversation with some people today about Guinevere, Arthur’s wife. Hardly anyone has ever been able to make her sympathetic to me! I think this is because her only purpose in myth/history is to be an unfaithful wife. (The Once and Future King comes closest to making her honorable.) So, not a favorite character, but maybe it goes to the question of how you make someone who is going to do a dishonorable thing engaging… even if not likable.

    • I always dislike Giunevere, too. The only way she becomes likable is when the author makes Arthur unlikable. It’s got to be one or the other.

  2. Back to favorite characters (since I dragged us off topic)Harry Dresden in the early Jim Butcher novels was appealing, and I like Harper Blaine in Kat Richardson’s urban fantasy Greywalker series. Harper is an unusual character in this sub-genre because she has a regular job and is an attractive woman who is not a bombshell. She has to worry about seeing ghosts and making the office rent. That makes her relatable, even when she is fighting an invisible Native American god/monster in the underground part of Seattle.

    And yeah, with the Arthur/Guin thing it’s strictly pick-a-side, and the deck is stacked toward Arthur.

  3. Melanie Goldmund /

    One of my favourite characters is Miles Vorkosigan, created by Lois McMaster Bujold. Why is he realistic, why does he live and breathe for me? Because he’s got strengths and weaknesses (not only physical, but also mental.) He wants things he can’t always have. He makes decisions that affect other people, and he has to live with the fallout. He doubts himself sometimes. But then he uses his intellect, his grasp of strategy, and his bravery (or foolhardiness) to solve the conflict. I don’t know how LMB does it, I just know that she’s created a masterpiece.

  4. SandyG265 /

    One of my favorite characters is Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs series. The way the character is written she seems like she could be a real person – someone I’d actually like to meet.

  5. Characters are definitely a key element. Poorly molded characters can make the best plot dull.

    I like characters that make me smile – whether it is from them doing the right thing, saying something funny or just doing something that I can relate to. I love it when they move on despite their faults and sometimes make their faults into a strength (like Miles Vorkosigan). I’m also rather fond of characters that are sarcastic, snide and mouthy. Maybe because I’m the opposite?

    Some of my favorites would be Claire Fraser from Outlander, Miles of course, Harry Dresden, Aviendha…I also love animal characters, the kind that talk like those from Brian Jacques’ stories or those that don’t like Mouse and Mister from Dresden. Can’t really say why other than I just like animals in general – mostly more than people ;-)

  6. Miles V is a keeper. I like that he has to fight discrimination in his own society because of his health problems, but internally his own class-based sense of entitlement — and the struggles he goes through when he wants something he can’t have, or, even better, probably *could* have but knows it wouldn’t be right.

  7. As with favorite books, too many to list and the list would change by the hour, but a few off the top of my head:

    Coll from Alexander’s Prydain series
    Saltheart Foamfollower
    Brin’s Postman guy
    And his dolphin captain
    Richard Burton and Twain from Riverworld
    Master Harper
    Coldfire guy (Tarrant?)
    Paul Atreides
    Morgan and Duncan from Deyrini
    the girl (Arkady?) from Foundation

    Iago–so good at being so bad
    The two guys in Plainsong
    Owen Meany
    Charly in Flowers for Algernon
    Lucifer in Paradise Lost
    Ma Joad
    Tristram Shandy
    the guy in Accidental Tourist

    Lennie and George
    Fafhrd and Grey Mouser
    Tehol and Bugg
    Bridge of Birds guys

    oh, so so so many more!

  8. Fitz (Robin Hobb) — So tragic! Just a normal kid who wants to live a normal life with the girl who’s his best friend, but he can’t and it’s not his fault.

    Fafhrd (Fritz Leiber) — The intelligent barbarian with a droll sense of humor. Fafhrd loves what he does (drinking, fighting, wenching) but we all know he secretly wants to be a philosopher.

    Joscelin (Jacqueline Carey) — Sigh. The perfect man.

    Cugel (Jack Vance) — Best Villain Ever.

    Um. There are no women on my list. Why are there no women on my list? This could explain a lot…. I need to think about this.

  9. Tavi (from Jim Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series): To borrow from Douglas Adams, here’s how I would describe Tavi: “Almost completely, but not quite, different from Harry Potter”. Here’s the kid who is either pitied or mocked by everyone because of his handicap and he not only overcomes it, he turns it into an advantage!

    Loiosh (from Steven Brust’s “Taltos” series): Let’s face it, Vlad Taltos kicks ass, but he would never be what he is without Loiosh.

    Granny Weatherwax (from Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series): In my experience so far, it’s hard to find a good female character in sci-fi and fantasy. I respect Granny Weatherwax immensely.

  10. Melanie Goldmund, you win the copy of The Six-Gun Tarot. Usual drill: please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

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