Another fine author visits us today. I think his epic fantasy series, Four Feasts Til Darkness, look intriguing so I asked him here to tell us a little about it. I hope you will enjoy it. Please welcome Mr. Christian A. Brown and lend an ear while he gives us his take on things he does, and doesn’t, like about characters, specifically….
Christian A. Brown
Just a second, everyone put away the pitchforks and stop brandishing those Gertrude Stein books at me as if they can compel the misogynistic demon from my flesh. This isn’t a diatribe on feminism in literature–I wouldn’t dare to touch such a heavy subject without an array of facts at my disposal. As a fantasy writer, I don’t really deal in facts, as much as possibilities. What I would like to discuss is the portrayal of women in fantasy, what I like, and what I don’t like, what I think needs changing. I’d like to keep this dialog as uncontroversial as possible, and focus on how these characters are written, more than diving into the societal influences that make writers craft women in this manner. That’s psychology, and I’m not a psychologist. Okay, moving on, I’ll start with the stuff I can’t stand–expect hyperbole and potential cussing.
Women who are powerless. To me, nothing is more irritating than watching a female lead take a backseat to the action. I understand that characters need time to “grow” into their heroism, however, the foundations for that backbone should have been laid prior to that mettle being tested in a life-or-death situation. Otherwise, my suspension of disbelief is being tested. Even if a heroine is in a situation from which she cannot escape, she should always be thinking of escape, and not complacent with her miserable existence. At least that spark of free-will can be convincing impetus for a future act of daring. In the event that your heroine ends up chained in a basement, and awaiting the most wretched fate imaginable, she should be testing her chains, wondering who she can pounce on when they enter her cell, or looking for a rat bone to pick her irons. Whatever. She should be doing something, or sure that she will somehow live. That fire for life is what keeps me, as a reader hooked. When characters give up, so do I.
Women who are overly negative. As a man who writes some pretty snappy ladies, this can be a delicate act to balance. Cynicism is fine, particularly if that character has endured hardships. But when all she does is harp, or whine, or question her strength, that character becomes as unpleasant as the people in real life who do that. You know that friend that you have who calls you up to complain about her weight/ marriage/ job? Negative Nancy the sorceress, can have the same tone and repellence. Negativity can serve a purpose, and a hero should always suffer moments of doubt. But the strongest people do so silently, or among their closest allies, and never often or vocally (unless they are giving a rousing speech against their injustice). Finding a balance with humor, can help to offset a character with a naturally acerbic demeanor. At least it gives the reader something else to focus on.
Women who need to be constantly saved (usually by an all-powerful figure). Similar to the first point, although I believe it deserves its own mention. Getting saved once by your beau, assuming our heroine has exhausted all of her resourcefulness, and is really, truly, screwed, is fine. Sometimes, despite everything, we just cannot extricate ourselves from a mess. We need help. Alright. Help arrives. Then, she trips and falls down a well in another ten pages. Shortly after calling for help and being rescued, she decides to go for a walk in the Forest of Ultimate Evil. Probably a bad idea, given the name, but this girl (I’ve demoted her from womanhood for her naiveté), doesn’t have the good sense God gave a toothpick. Don’t worry, here comes Damien Glorylocks–knight, and secret royal blood of a long forgotten dynasty–to save Clueless. From now on, we’ll just refer to my sample heroine by that name, as it tends to sum up a lot of decisions that writers place in the minds of their female leads.
Stupidity. Coming off that last point. How stupid can one character be? Okay, we all make dumb decisions. In fact, it’s necessary for characters to do one or two things in error, and thereafter grow from that experience. The key here is grow. Grow. As in, not do that stupid thing, or comparable act of stupidity again. If you’re on the 3rd arc of your trilogy and your character is still figuring out the fundamentals of how to control her dragonblood, faery-magic, or whatever, then you have a problem. Similarly, if you’re deep into your story and Clueless still can’t figure out why the Dark Elves want her dead so badly, then you probably haven’t done a good enough job as a writer giving the reader–and potentially Clueless–information. Readers like to be in the know, and if your character is being kept in the dark, often treating your audience the same risks aliening them. So if these scenarios are occurring in your books, then your character (and audience) is not learning, they are not growing. And if you’ve watched one season of Honey Boo Boo, you’ve watched them all.
The only thrill in that entertainment is in watching the mediocrity unfold. We do not want our stories to be banal, we want them to be inspiring, and teaching of greatness. Mediocrity is for the real world, it has no place in fantasy.
Here, we have a shorter list, as most of these things are self-explanatory.
Normal characters. By this I mean, they have no supreme, miracle, magic. No great hidden power. These women are just tough as nails, and have learned how to kick life in the balls. Almost universally, readers like these sorts of characters. Sure, later on in the story-line, that character may struggle to hang with their mystical friends, and as end-of-the-world events unfold, it takes a deft narrative hand to weave them through those troubles unscathed. Still, the value of a normal character in an otherwise epic fantasy cannot be understated, for they create a bridge between our world and the fantasy.
Women who make their own choices. Decisiveness. I love this trait in characters. As a storyteller, characters who do not waver with indecision, move the story forward at a steady pace. Otherwise, you can end up wasting pages on internal dialog, which can make a character seem weak, which then threatens to lose the reader.
Women who fight. I’m not saying that every heroine has to be a martial expert, but even a princess can have lessons in fencing, and if you make the heroine a blacksmith’s daughter, she would surely know how to swing a blade. Again, this cycles back to women being helpless, which I personally hate to read.
Witty, curious women. Witty, is not the same as bitchy–another fine line that can be crossed. And curiosity may have killed the cat, but it shouldn’t kill the heroine. A sense for questioning order, a rebellious spirit, and someone who can take the slings-and-arrows of life with the occasional laugh, all make for engaging characters.
I have another 90 pages of editing to do on my second MS, so I must bid adieu to deal with that duty. I hope that my ramblings have been thought, and not anger, provoking. Do keep in mind that the above represents only my opinions, and there are as many ways to write characters as there are writers in the world. These are just my pet-peeves, and the pitfalls that I try to avoid.
Feast of Dreams
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
As King Brutus licks his wounds and gathers new strength, two rival queens vow to destroy each other’s nations.
Lila of Eod, sliding into madness, risks everything in the search for a powerful relic, while Queen Gloriatrix threatens Eod with military might—including three monstrous technomagikal warships.
Far from this clash of queens, Morigan and the Wolf scour Alabion, hunting for the mad king’s hidden weakness. Their quest brings them face to face with their own pasts, their dark futures…and the Sisters Three themselves.
Unbeknownst to all, a third thread in Geadhain’s tapestry begins to move in the wastes of Mor’Khul. There, a father and son scavenge to survive as they travel south toward a new chapter in Geadhain history.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/rURqUni_lco
Feast of Fates
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Date of Publication: September 9, 2014
Number of pages: 540
Word Count: 212K
“Love is what binds us in brotherhood, blinds us from hate, and makes us soar with desire.”
Morigan lives a quiet life as the handmaiden to a fatherly old sorcerer named Thackery. But when she crosses paths with Caenith, a not wholly mortal man, her world changes forever. Their meeting sparks long buried magical powers deep within Morigan. As she attempts to understand her newfound abilities, unbidden visions begin to plague her–visions that show a devastating madness descending on one of the Immortal Kings who rules the land.
With Morigan growing more powerful each day, the leaders of the realm soon realize that this young woman could hold the key to their destruction. Suddenly, Morigan finds herself beset by enemies, and she must master her mysterious gifts if she is to survive.
Available at Amazon .
Feast of Dreams Excerpt:
“My queen, it grows late.”
Queen Lila was about to address the enormous man casting his silver-hued shadow over her as Rowena. But no. Her sword was gone and neck-deep in espionage with the master of the East Watch, and a hammer named Erik was her guardian these days. What sad eyes the man had, more black than blue—as morose as those of an owl perched over a graveyard. She could see them glinting from beneath his darkened visor. Rarely did she spot the hard, hidden handsomeness of the man—his black hair, broken but appealing face, and stubble crisscrossed in scars. Come to think of it, aside from the moment his naked, scorched self had abruptly manifested in a cindery puff within the Chamber of Echoes some weeks ago, she hadn’t seen him without his helm. He was hiding then from the absence of his king or another private torment. She had been staring at him rather unabashedly for quite a spell. The sparkle of fiery colors off the immaculate polish of his pristine armor hypnotized her. His voice snapped her out of her trance. How quickly evening’s shroud had fallen.
“Time has escaped us,” commented the queen.
Erik gently led her from the bedside she attended. As they passed the hospice’s cots and floor pallets, the hands and voices of the wounded reached for her. Erik watched the queen’s remorseful looks and the aching way she touched the feet of certain sufferers or the backs of weeping kin. These days she was cold and ruthless in her judgments within the palace. She had become a steel queen to stand metal for mettle against the Iron Queen rising in the East. In these particular confines, however, where the faltering breath of the ailing made the air humid, and it was thick with the stench of eucalyptus poultices and incense to mask the rot magik would not heal, the queen’s mask cracked or was simply cast off. Genuine pity replaced it. She had come here each day for the past fortnight since the storm of frostfire had struck Eod. “The day of ruin,” the people called it—when first the skies were bare and then suddenly forked with red lightning, spitting shards of ice and arrows of flame to the earth. None of sound mind could have prepared for that wailing apocalypse. Thousands were killed instantly. They were boiled inside tarry craters the earthspeakers were still working to fill or entombed in buildings that could not hold against the storm’s wrath. The injuries were uncountable, and they were still being reported. Those with only singed or frostbitten flesh dismissed the pettiness of their wounds and carried on with tourniquets and grimaces. Others had to be scraped from streets or, if mauled but living, extracted from rubble and taken to a growing encampment of emergency sites erected near the palace. Here was where the queen always found herself once the details of war, supply lines, allies, enemies, and stratagems had worn her patience to a snappy disinterest. Somehow in these miserable hospices, the queen seemed peaceful, albeit sad.
Time and again Erik made one-sided conversation as he guarded his new charge—he never managed to say these words. You blame yourself for this or for my kingfather’s fate. You see these sins as your own. You feel the weight and needs of this entire nation upon yourself, and what a terrible weight that must be to bear. You are not alone, though, my queen. As adrift as you might be, I am here. I shall be the rock you need. I have made a promise to the great man who speaks to us no more.
The night he had appeared so rudely at her side, she held him and told him she could not sense the king anymore. The icy flame of Magnus’s soul had gone as cold as a forgotten hearth.
“What does it mean? What does it all mean?” she’d sobbed.
She was without her lover and partner in eternity, and he was without his father. They were agonizingly alone. Only on that night did she cry for the king and never since—as far as Erik had witnessed. He and the queen did not speak of their grief again or further pursue the reality that the Immortal King—missing and utterly quiet in his queen’s mind since the battle with his mad brother in Zioch—was quite possibly dead.
At the hospice exit, Queen Lila stopped so suddenly that Erik almost elbowed his liege. With what Erik perceived as a speck of wariness, she half glanced over her shoulder, and her gaze swelled wide with fear. She was staring at something behind them. Erik looked as well and reached a hand to his weapon. However, he saw nothing aside from the rows of squirming sufferers moving on their bloody, sweat-soaked cots like man-size maggots. What horrible times these were.
“Have you forgotten something?” he asked.
Queen Lila wished she could explain the hairs that prickled on her neck or the chill of Mother Winter’s mouth that blew the humidity from the chamber, but no one else seemed to feel it. Most of all, she wanted to find a less hysterical explanation for the shadow—tall as a mountain, black, and somehow bright—that hovered in the corner of her eye. She would not turn around and look at it. She could not. She was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would involuntarily scream. What do you want, shadow? Why do you haunt me? Why do you come to me in dreams?
“No. I need nothing more,” she answered curtly and moved ahead, trembling.
The world of Four Feasts Till Darkness series:
Blogmistress note: Don’t you just love that map?
About the Author
Bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, Christian A. Brown received a Kirkus star in 2014 for the first novel in his genre-changing Four Feasts Till Darkness series. He has appeared on Newstalk 1010, AM640, Daytime Rogers, and Get Bold Today with LeGrande Green. He actively writes a blog about his mother’s journey with cancer and on gender issues in the media. A lover of the weird and wonderful, Brown considers himself an eccentric with a talent for cat-whispering.
Thank you for being with us today, Christian! Good luck with Feast of Fates!