Scarring Your Characters

Everyone has scars. Something that has hurt them that they carry through life, that changes how they act and react. I’ve said it so many times: characters are people, and they are. And characters have scars too—both literal and figurative.

Scars are more than just a tragic backstory. They can be as deep as an abusive past or loss of a parent, or superficial as social rejection or a petty betrayal. They give characters and stories depth. Characters are people, with pasts and lives and feelings, that are constantly changing and growing. It makes your story full and dynamic—living and breathing.

It also opens up a whole new world of story possibilities and makes your story unpredictable. Instead of a linear path following your protagonist and their struggles, now there’s a dozen different paths, weaving and colliding and tangling together.

So how can you add scars?

Sometimes scars are obvious and unavoidable—like a scar slashed across their face. These are a major part of your character, and unavoidably part of the story, but they don’t necessarily have to be focused on. These don’t always have the most impact on your character. They might be more of a trait, another factor of your character, without really affecting how they interact with the world. I think most tragic backstories fall into this category. Usually, it’s added like another tick on a character sheet: brown hair, sometimes shy, parents died tragically when he was young.

Don’t just add something that seems awful and traumatic for the sake of it being awful and traumatic. It might not really have the impact on your character that it should, like I said above. What matters most to your character? What do they want more than anything? And what would hurt them the most?

For instance, the protagonist of Ember, Falcon, lived with a gang for years before she found her family. The abuse she suffered from them wasn’t what was traumatic. In her world, violence was normal, accepted. What was more painful for her was when the gang lord, the only person to ever show her  “love” and the only family she had ever had, cast her out on the street like she was nothing.

Sometimes scars aren’t obvious. Sometimes they peek out of a shirt sleeve, or don’t even show at all. We don’t always see scars, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not there. In the same way, your characters’ scars might not even be part of the story, but that doesn’t mean they won’t affect it. Falcon’s father figure, Asa, knows a lot about her past and carries a lot of pain from that time. None of that is ever addressed in Ember, but it changes how he treats Falcon and how he reacts to everything that happens in the story.

Not all scars are major. Most are much smaller, but no less important. Sometimes these are the scars that really affect how a character acts, and taken altogether really shape who they are. And sometimes scars that seem small, have a lot more impact than we think. In Ember, Falcon has a scar on her wrist from when the gang punished her for trying to steal food. It seems small, but we learn later that this is the incident that made them cast her out, so it has a lot more meaning to her.

When thinking of scars, usually we think of our protagonists first. Which is great, because they arguably need to be the deepest and most developed character in your story. But I think what really gives a story depth is when supporting characters have pasts and scars, which then affect how they treat the protagonist and the events around them.

If you are going to scar your characters in the story, then it needs to be dealt with straight on. You need to directly address what happened to them, and how they’re going to change because of it. But if it happened to them before the story starts, I think the most effective way to show their scars is to first show the behavior or how it has changed your character, then slowly reveal the reason behind it.

I could say a lot more about this, but I’ll write another post on it later. What are your characters’ scars, and how do you work them into your story? Are they obvious scars on the face, or hidden behind a sleeve?

Either way, scars are what make your characters.

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Book Review: FROI OF THE EXILES

So I’ve been reading this one for a while (it is a long book, give me some credit) but I’m finally done! Here it is, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, or need a reminder:

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta is the second in the Lumatere Chronicles series (which I didn’t know when I bought it, and didn’t realize until I was about halfway through reading it, haha). I’ve said before that I have a love/hate relationship with this book, and after finishing it, I still do.

The Jist: An ex-street thief (Froi) is sent on a mission to a rival kingdom (and his homeland), impersonating someone who is supposed to break the curse with the half-mad princess, while he discovers ties to his past and plots to kill the king.

The Good: Wow, Melina Marchetta is a master with emotions. Some scenes were so raw and believable that it just struck me. She created some complex, dark, tortured characters that made me feel for them. I mean the feels. Even with the strange world and characters, she managed to make some realistic, relatable emotions and relationships. I think the emotions and the dynamics of the different, complex relationships were my favorite part. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting characters were side characters rather than main, and I would have liked to see more from them.

The Not-So-Good: While she’s good with emotions, I didn’t feel the same about her storytelling. Besides the overwhelming, confusing cast of characters which make things hard to keep track of (half the time I couldn’t remember who they were, so I didn’t really care) the pace is incredibly slow. Honestly, I ended up skimming a lot (blasphemy, I know). Even in the supposedly climactic scenes, or scenes with huge revelations, it would take so long to get to the point that I was just lost and bored by that time, and then sometimes would miss the huge moment. Other times felt like a huge info dump, and there was a lot of backstory that felt kind of unnecessary, confusing, and for characters I didn’t entirely care about.

Favorite Part: Definitely Froi and Quintana’s (the half-mad princess) relationship. Probably the most interesting, bizarre, but endearing love story I’ve ever read. I didn’t even find Froi particularly interesting or likeable, but every single scene with them was just brilliant. I would have loved more time with Quintana’s character period, as she was by far my favorite.

The Verdict: I don’t know what to say, honestly. The moments of brilliance were brilliant and will stay with me for a while. But I feel like I had to work so hard to get to those moments. So, for now, I will likely hold off on the next and final book until I am ready again. But these were definitely some characters that won’t leave me anytime soon. If you are a fan of epic fantasies, and don’t mind a long read or keeping track of characters, then those moments of raw, stark brilliance are absolutely worth it.

Book Review: THE FEAR TRIALS

So my friend Lindsay Cummings just released the prequel novella to her book, The Murder Complex (which comes out tomorrow! So excited!) The Fear Trials is an ebook-only release, on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes for 1.99. Here it is, for those of you who haven’t seen it:

This is her debut novel, and has already reached the top 100 on Amazon. Though she is a good friend of mine, this review is as unbiased as possible. 🙂

The Jist: Meadow trains to survive, and kill, in order to provide for her family in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birth rate.

The Good: I love the world in this, as dark and twisted as it is. This is a perfect example of a dystopian done well. It is very raw, and vivid, and I love the little details that make it feel real. It is very fast-paced and exciting, but also emotional. I think she has created some interesting, complex characters here that I can’t wait to see more of.

The Not-So-Good: It is fast-paced, and I think it reads a lot like the Hunger Games, which (obviously) a lot of people will like. I just personally appreciate a little more variation in sentences and description.

Favorite Part: SPOILER – My favorite part is when Meadow is finally able to kill someone, in order to save her sister, thus winning the Fear Trials and proving herself. – END SPOILER – I think this is the point Meadow truly becomes herself, and I’ll be interested to see how she develops over the course of The Murder Complex.

The Verdict: This is a gripping, exciting introduction to The Murder Complex series. For fans of the Hunger Games, Legend, and the movie Hanna. I would definitely recommend reading this before The Murder Complex. I mean, for 1.99, why not? As a novella it is a quick read (I finished in one sitting, over a couple hours) so it’s a quick, easy way to try out her writing, and see if you’d want to read the Murder Complex. This is a great debut, and I think Lindsay has a bright future as an author 🙂

 

Book Review: BATTLE MAGIC

Alright, so I know I’ve been reading this one forever, but things have been a little crazy around here, and I just finished it. Here it is, for those of you who aren’t familiar or have forgotten:

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As I’ve said before, Tamora Pierce was basically my author idol growing up. She was a huge inspiration for me to start writing novels, and a motivation to keep going. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of her books, so when my dad gave me this book for my birthday, I was more than ecstatic. I started reading, and I was hooked. I would have read it in one sitting, if my life didn’t have different plans. Here’s the breakdown:

The Jist: Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy (of previous Winding Circle books) are halfway across the world from their home, and must use their magic, massive epic armies, and super awesome gods, to fight back the bad emperor and keep him from destroying the peaceful kingdom of Gyongxe.

The Good: Her world-building and storytelling are amazing. It is such a rich and vivid world, complete with culture, history, religions, and politics. I can tell a lot of research went into this one, since it is clearly based on Chinese culture. I love her characterization too. So many unique people and voices, even the side characters are memorable.

The Not-So-Good: This one is hard. For me, I think that some parts can seem more juvenile or middle grade, and I think because it is geared towards a younger audience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, just not for me. I would also say that with the vast cast of characters and rich history, though all very interesting, sometimes it can get confusing (especially with the oriental names).

Favorite Part: Evvy is such a sharp, endearing, and memorable character. She’s a little girl who grew up in the slums, is very brave and spunky, with a huge appetite and seven cats. I loved her sections, especially when (minor spoiler) she journeys into the mountains and meets the gods that live there, and befriends them. Her and Luvo’s (the “heart” of the mountain, a colorful stone bear, and I can’t get rid of the image of a talking gummy bear) dynamic and relationship is brilliant. This ancient mountain god who is very distant about humans grows to love and be fiercely protective of this brave little girl, and they become like best friends.

The Verdict: Anyone who is a fan of Tamora Pierce, or YA fantasy in general, should go read this. Even after twenty-something books, she still manages to create a unique and intriguing world full of vivid characters that won’t leave you anytime soon.