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In my upcoming Young Adult Fantasy novel Everdream, one of the most important characters spends the whole book sleeping.

Queen Aderyn, young Prince Kynan’s mother, may be Dreaming quietly throughout her son’s quest, but her story is the catalyst for his journey and for a change that will change the face of Everdream and the Wake alike.

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One of the fun things about doing research for my historical fiction based on a true story, Hold Fast, is finding out about real-life characters that fit into the story.  Among the people Ann MacLean would have known at the refugee camp at Machiche, Quebec was the Loyalist captain Jeptha Hawley.

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In doing the research for my work in progress, Hold Fast, I’ve come across some very interesting facts.  Not least of these facts is the Scottish laird with the nickname “The Wicked Man”.

You see, when I got Ann MacLean‘s story, all I knew was that she was the granddaughter of a Scottish laird who lived in a castle on a cliff on the Isle of Skye.  It didn’t take much sleuthing to discover that castle was Dunvegan.  And based on the timeline (Ann arrived in Canada in 1774 at the age of 16) I narrowed her grandfather down to Norman MacLeod, the 22nd chief of Clan MacLeod.  That’s where things get interesting.

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When Prince Kynan arrives in Everdream to rescue his mother the queen, he finds more than he’d bargained for.

The world is as vast and limitless as the real world—the Wake.  And amid its forests, rivers, and ruins there lurks a host of mythical beasts, all bent on hunting down any living Dreamer and killing him.  Kynan has no leads to find his mother in this strange, hostile world.

Enter Grigor.

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When I wrote Across the Deep, it took me a decade.

A decade of sifting through the historical record and the treasure trove of letters and journals left to me and my cousins by my grandfather.  Every new thing I read brought these people to life in new and vibrant ways.

You see, it’s one thing to have a family tree with names and dates.  (Many families don’t even have that much, beyond a couple of generations.)  Even old black and white photographs can only take you so far.  It’s the stories that really matter.

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Right now I’m working on a historical fiction based on a true story—the remarkable true story of Ann MacLean.  But I wouldn’t have even heard of Ann if it weren’t for another Loyalist who lived at the refugee camp at Machiche with her—my five times great grandfather Josiah Cass.

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My latest YA fantasy manuscript centres around a young prince, Kynan, the heir to the throne of his land of Tyernas.  Kynan embarks on a quest to rescue his mother from her ten-year slumber in the magical realm of Everdream.

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In the Wake, there is nothing much to recommend him.  He is scrawny for his age of 15, brown haired and pale.  Though he has a court of youths who treat him with deference, he knows they secretly scorn him.  His father, the king, surely finds him a disappointment, as he keeps him from any kind of responsibility or risk.

But that is just the beginning of who Kynan is.  In Everdream he can be anything.  In Everdream he is his truest self.

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My current work in progress, a historical fiction, centres around a bit of an enigma: Ann MacLeod MacLean McIntyre Cass.

History only records her as a Loyalist widow, mother, and refugee, and her origin is in shadow.  But a story told by her descendants to my cousin may shed some light onto an unusual and incredible past.

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The internet is full of helpful lists of questions to ask your date so you can get to know them.  But have you ever thought about using these questions to get to know your characters?  

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After all, you’re about to embark on an intimate journey with this person.  You need to know more than just height, build, hair colour and eye colour.  Just because they’re not actually real doesn’t mean these aren’t important things to know.  And even if you never use these details in your writing, they will inform how you think about your character, resulting in a more multi-faceted picture.

So, here are a few things off the top of my head.

  1. What’s your biggest goal in life? (Most important question you will ever ask your character!!)
  2. What was your childhood like?
  3. Have you been hurt before, and how have you responded?
  4. Do you have a nickname, and how did you get it?
  5. What are your hobbies?
  6. What is your relationship like with your family?
  7. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  8. What do you think about love?
  9. Are you easily convinced, or a skeptic?
  10. What would you die for?

This is in no way an exhaustive list.  I hope this will serve as a starting point when it comes to getting to know – really know – your character.  Feel free to add your own questions in the comments below.  🙂

Ever find that your characters lack dimension?  That they seem more like cardboard cutouts than real people?

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Or maybe you find the opposite – your characters are so alive they do or say things you didn’t expect.

As a writer, you’ve probably experienced both.

Even if you’re not a writer, I imagine there are plenty of people you’ve met that you just didn’t get.  Some of them might keep everything hidden away, a mystery.  You might inaccurately assume they have no personality.  Some of them might say or do things that you don’t understand.  But everyone has some kind of hidden motivation.

Here’s an interesting quote that I think sums up what I’m talking about:

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

So when you’re writing, or even if you’re just trying to understand the people around you, here are a few considerations.

What are they afraid of?

We’re not talking about the dark or heights here.  Of course, that might come into play, but we’re talking deeper.  Gary Smalley in his book The DNA of Relationships says that everyone is ultimately afraid of either being controlled or being detached from other people.  That fear plays out in various ways: fear of failure, fear of being belittled, etc.  If you really want to dig into this idea, try going through the Core Fears Test, answering the questions on behalf of your characters.

What do they love?

It might not be the obvious.  Don’t make your villains love puppies and kittens just to make them sympathetic.  (I was actually requested to do this once.  Needless to say I found a subtler way.)  Maybe they love a family member.  Maybe they love an object.  Maybe they just love themselves.  Find out what it is.

What have they lost?

Make this significant, but not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.  Maybe it was a loved one, but maybe not.  Maybe it was a quality, like innocence.  Maybe it was an ability they used to have.  Get creative on this, and don’t shy away from pain.  Remember that trouble is the life of a story.

Hopefully that helps you take your characters from cookie cutters to unique individuals.  Or, if you’re not a writer, that it helps you better understand yourself and those around you.