Friday, December 28, 2012

AMA: Answers Part FINAL!

What a fun series this has been, and such great questions! I'll TOTALLY have to do this again soon, but for now, let's wrap up the year by wrapping up the questions,

the superhero princess said: Rachel, I'm curious about your thoughts on villains (a subject that fascinates me). Some of my favorite characters in film/literature are villains/anti-heroes (Loki, Gollum, and Snape come to mind) and I've always thought there were two (or more) types of villains (the sympathetic and the truly evil) -- what is some writing advice/general thoughts for creating a great villain? (How did you think about yours)
I've always felt that villains make the series. While protagonists labor under the onerous of being, while not necessarily good, at least redeemable, antagonists suffer no such restrictions. They are free to be as amazingly interesting and terrible and messed up as you could possibly imagine, often end up being everyone's favorite characters.

As I mentioned on day 1, I'm planning to do a big post about them soon. With that in mind, I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but to answer your question, here's a quick look into what I think about when I create a villain.

First off, I always craft villains and heroes as a matched set. Even if they don't know each other and are completely unrelated except for the fact that their goals conflict, you'll always get better villain/hero interactions if you think of them as being in relation to one another. I didn't do this with Eli and Renaud in The Spirit Thief and Renaud ended up being forgettable  However, I did do it with Josef and Coriano and I still get emails about that sneaky swordsman. I also did this with Eli and the Duke of Gaol, and I think OCD Edward is my favorite "mini-boss" of the series.

So I try to develop villains and heroes together, focusing on how they relate, how they play off each other, and how they will ultimately come into conflict. The better they fit, and the more interesting both characters become.

This relationship also determines what favor of villain I'm after. Roughly speaking, villains come in two types: redeemable and irredeemable. Redeemable doesn't mean the character has to "turn good," just that you can see how they could if given the right chance/motivation. Irredeemable villains on the other hand are completely beyond hope and actively delight in their villainy. Redeemable villains tend to be more sympathetic and deep, but irredeemable villains tend to be more fun.

For my money, the best villains are the ones that could be heroes themselves if only they'd stop being so ruthless/stubborn/proud/etc. That one moment when the villain and hero face each other and you can just see how, if things had been different, they could have been allies, that is character GOLD. Snape had this in spades, and I think that's why everyone stuck by him/loved him so relentlessly.

But as deep and complex as a redeemable villain can be, unrepetent evil is its own special kind of blast. For example, Maleficent is one of my favorite villains of all time even though she had next to no development beyond "looks cool, says awesome stuff, turns into bitching dragon." For a story as simple as Sleeping Beauty, that's all you really needed. For a more complex (and hilarious) example of this type, I point to my other favorite evil lady, Yzma!

Black hearted villains are often much more straight forward characters than the ones who are simply misunderstood or wrong minded. Their ability to captivate readers comes from tapping into our power fantasies rather than our sympathies. Using a simple villain like this can give you a lot more room in your story to focus on your heroes, but you do have to be careful not to make your villain TOO simple lest they end up a cackling evil stereotype instead of a character.

This is the most The absolute most important thing to remember when creating a villain is that you aren't creating an antagonistic force of conflict, you're creating a character. Your villain should be every bit as developed as your other MCs, even if they don't get much page time. They need their own goals and motivations and circumstances. Their actions should make sense to THEM, even if they don't make sense to anyone else. Most importantly, your villain should have a life outside of their villainy and an end game that reaches past the protagonist's story. In short, they need to act like a real person, not like a roving wall that only exists to block your protags.

Again, more on this later when I can get my thoughts more in order!

Anonymous said: Are there any fun facts about any of the main characters that didn't make it into the books?
Yes! The biggest one was that Miranda originally had a love interest. He was a wizard baker in Zarin whose shop she frequented when she was in town and he had a huge crush on her but she was too busy to notice (though her spirits did). I always meant to write him in, both as some cute non-duty related character stuff for Miranda and to show how normal, non-Spirit Court, non-crazy wizards lived their lives (he made happy bread in a bakery full of awakened equipment), but I just never got the chance. I can't even remember his name now actually, poor fellow.

Other tidbits include outing Alber Whitefall as gay and the fact that he has a long running antagonism with the series's other old queen, Giuseppe Monpress. I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted with these guys! Also, Morticime Kant's name was a giant set up for a joke I never got to make. See, when Illir revealed himself as Morticime Kant, author of those horribly inaccurate books on wizardry, Miranda was supposed to sputter something like "you can't do that!" to which Eli would answer "Looks like Morticime CAN!" and it would have been terrible and hilarious. Alas, the scene never worked out, so now you lucky people are the only ones to know the true extent of Eli's terrible puns.
Laura Stephenson said: I'm with OathBreaker wanting to know if you plan on writing a book with dragons. They're my favorite fantasy element, and I think you could make them appropriately sardonic and full of themselves.
Did you see my answer to him in Part 2? Yeah, I can't wait to show you peeps my dragon series. It's going to be an ensemble cast story like Eli, but near future, cyber punky Urban Fantasy with dragons and awesome. A hot mess of badassery, in other words. Of course, I have to write it first, and sell it, but if I can manage to work it out OMG it's going to be so amazing. Snarky dragons will reign forever!

And finally, I have two questions about Eli's sexuality that I'm going to answer together. HOWEVER! Since the answers delve deep into Eli's upbringing, I can't help but make them EXTREMELY SPOILERIFIC. So, to protect those of you who don't like to be randomly spoiled, I'm hiding the rest under a cut. Read on at your own peril!

Anonymous said: Hey, I sent you a message about this too, but just to get it on the thread: anything you're willing to tell us about Eli's sexuality? Or is it a trade secret?

Anonymous said: While I personally suspect Eli's sexuality is "money" more than anything else and am perfectly happy leaving it there, I would be really curious to find out who the gay characters besides Giuseppe, Alber and the Empress (unless she was bisexual) were, if you're willing to say!
I've been waiting a long time for someone to ask me this question, and I'm kind of afraid you're not going to like the answer. See, when I create characters, there's some stuff I know and some I don't. Sometimes I don't know because the detail is unimportant, like a favorite animal or whatever. Sometimes, though, it's because the character refuses to tell me.

Unfortunately, this is how it is with Eli's sexuality. I can't tell you if Eli is straight/gay/bi/loves only gold because he's never told me. I know that sounds like the most bullshit answer ever, but I swear it's the truth. Eli has always been my chattiest character. I know more about him than I do about myself. But on this one issue he's silent as the sphinx, and because I know him so well, I understand why.

You see, Eli lived with Benehime from age 11 until he was almost 15. This means that he spent his formative years of puberty completely under her thumb, suffering some pretty extreme emotional and physical abuse at her hands during his time as the White Lady's "love."

Benehime herself isn't actually a sexual being. She's a Power, a created custodian and demigod. She can't reproduce, so she has no urges like that. Instead, her love is entirely about possession and control. She wanted Eli to be hers, her treasure, her pet, her thing, and she did not appreciate it when Eli disrupted this fantasy by acting like a thinking individual with his own opinions.

These years with Benehime left him with some pretty deep scars, one of which is a pathological fear of showing love to others. A healthy one, I think, considering how Benehime would react if she ever found out he was interested in another person. For example, let's say he liked Miranda. If he ever showed romantic preference for her, if he, say, kissed her, Benehime would kill her on the spot.

That kind of fear does things to people. For Eli, it made him very guarded. He's a very personable and charming man, and quite good looking in a roguish way, yet he has never had a real romantic interest. He's never even considered one. Add to this the abandonment issues caused by his parents and it's no wonder the boy's an emotional mess. Hell, he can barely let himself love Nico, Josef, and Giuseppe, the people who are the closest thing he has to a true family.

Long story short, Benehime did a huge number on poor Eli's ability to look at others in a romantic way. I don't even think Eli knows what he likes because he's been too terrified to ever think of another person like that. It's kind of hard to check out a cute girl or guy when doing so might cause a crazy, possessive Power of Creation to kill them out of spite.

Looking back, Eli's character probably should have been much more broken and damaged than he was. I attribute his general good attitude to his natural strength of character and his boundless optimism about the world. My favorite part about Eli was always that he never gave up, ever. That same cleverness and resilience that made him the world's greatest thief also allowed him to survive Benehime more or less intact.

Will he ever get over this and try to get laid? Almost certainly. Come on, did you really think anything could hold back Eli Monpress? But as of the end of the series, Eli's not even thinking about it. First, he simply has no time for love at the moment when there are bounties to be earned, and second, he's not an introspective person by nature. It's going to take some very uncomfortable self reflection to work through all this, not one of his strong suits. Even after he gets through his initial block and does become interested in someone, it's going to take a very very VERY patient and understanding person to help him untangle the emotional mess life with Benehime left in him.

I'm sure that was WAY more than you wanted to hear about such a simple question, but you should all know by now that things are never simple when it comes to Eli Monpress. Still, despite everything, he's very happy at the end of the book and he means to stay that way. I bet once Josef and Nico go off to be lovebirds for real, Eli will get lonely and find someone of his own (he can't stand being alone, that's why he made friends with so many spirits at such a young age. Eli craves company! What's the point of being fantastically charming if there's no one around to hear you?).

So, on that note, I leave the decision of Eli's sexuality up to you. After five books and this huge block of text, you have about the same chance of guessing right as I do! But I do want everyone to know that he got his happy ending. After all, all he ever wanted was to keep chasing his bounty with his best friends (preferably while messing with Miranda as much as possible), and that's exactly what he plans to do. It's the simple things...

Oh, and a final note about Miranda and Eli's relationship. Many readers have expressed disappointment that they didn't get together. I can understand the disappointment as I also love a good "opposites attract" romance, but really, can you imagine what would happen if Miranda and Eli actually tried to have a relationship? He'd be lucky to get out with his life, and all his limbs. They make fantastic adversaries and unlikely allies, they've even formed a grudging sort of respect for one another over the events of the series, but on a person to person level they annoy the shit out of each other. I knew by the end of The Spirit Thief that ship would never sail. Still, they are friends in a way, and that's important too. Especially for Eli, who doesn't make real, trusted friends easily (at least, not human ones).

As to who else in the series is gay other than Alber Whitefall, Giuseppe Monpress, and Nara, the Immortal Empress (who, for the record, liked ladies way before Benehime showed up and stole her heart forever), those are the big ones. I think Krigel (Banage's assistant) might have been, but it was never important enough to the story to make a real call on. 

Just for the record, I don't actually set out to make gay or straight characters when I'm working on a book. I  make people and then let them make up their own minds about who they like. Honestly, unless I'm specifically setting up a romance, character sexuality doesn't even come up. If it isn't relevant to the events of the story or the character's reactions, I leave them alone about it. Don't get me wrong, sexuality is very important, but it's only a part of who we are as people. Just as I identify myself as a writer way before I identify as a straight woman, so do my characters identify themselves as thieves, warriors, and world changers far ahead of when they tell me what bits they prefer on their lovers.

That said, I do try to represent a diverse range of sexuality in my books, not because of any PC nonsense, but because that's how people are. We like all sorts of different things, and since I try to always think of my characters as people, I make sure they like all sorts, too. Also, it's SO MUCH FUN to let readers assume a character's sexuality and then switch it up on them. I do so love delivering a good sucker punch to the expectations!

And on that note, the AMA is concluded. Thank you all again for the amazingly awesome questions! I hope you had half as much fun reading the answers as I had writing them, and thank you as always for reading. You people are the best! I'll be back soon with that post on villains I keep promising. In the meanwhile, have a happy and safe New Year and I'll see you all on the other side!

Until 2013, I remain your humble writer,
Rachel Aaron


Marie Andreas said...

Thank you so much for this series and for folks on here having such cool questions! The biggest "aha!" moment for me was thinking of the villian and the protag as a pair...YES! I think of my characters as pairs (the sidekick(s), romantic interest, etc) but never lumped my big bad in there-WOOT!
Thank you! (can't wait to see the big post on villians btw ;)).

the superhero princess said...

Thanks for answering my question(s) so amazingly!!! I can't wait to read your big post on villains but this right now helps me so much -- I'm completing a NaNo novel and I needed a lot of help in the villainy department.

Thanks for answering all these fascinating questions and I look forward to the next blog post!

Unknown said...

"Did you see my answer to him in Part 2?" -Yes, now I have. I don't think Part 2 was up when I wrote my agreement, but I apologize if so. I just think you're an awesome writer, and dragons are awesome things to read about, so...I was excited by the possibility. I'll be looking forward to the lengthy villain post as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for answering my question! I LOVED your answer concerning Eli's sexuality; it makes perfect sense. It's also great to know about Nara! These Q and A things have been AWESOME to read, thanks for answering every question so thoroughly!

Busy Woman said...

Thanks so much for giving us these great answers. Now, I'm gonna have to reread the books from this context!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel, Thanks so much for introducing me to Eli, Joseph, Nico, Miranda and the others. Their adventures have been a delight to read. Now, of course, as with any great book(s) I'm devastated at having to say goodbye to my friends.I know that Eli had his 'happy ending' but hope that one day, he might be persuaded to venture into the limelight again and amaze us all with further ingenious exploits!! Myrna (Gomes Maria)

Spinner Beech said...

These are all lovely answers - and I laughed so, so hard at the Yzma clip. I can't wait for The Emperor's New Groove to arrive in the mail so I can finally watch the whole thing. :) I haven't read the Eli books, but I found your talk about his sexuality fascinating (and it's made me even more interested in picking up the books sometime) and it's so refreshing to hear someone talking about characters being 'chatty' or not talking about things in the same way I usually think of it. (One of my main protagonists for the book I'm outlining still refuses to tell me his real NAME. Sheesh.)
Really looking forward to your big villain post, when you've gotten your thoughts together! Keep on being amazing. <3

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