A new character breezed her way through my WIP this week. Against a backdrop of betrayal, grief, scheming and murder, she burst onto the scene fluttering her eyelashes and began flirting with my oldest, crustiest, and to my mind most unattractive character. I didn’t see it coming. Neither did Artemis (the crusty old librarian) – or Jae, her young ward for that matter. I think all of us sat there with our jaws on the floor – until Artemis realising she was talking to him, shook off his permanent disgruntled attitude and transformed into a perfect gentleman (who knew?!).
So who is this gracious, charming creature? Stellar is a cross between someone’s old nana and an unstoppable force of nature. From Jae’s perspective:
This was Stellar being inconspicuous? She might not look like the Stellar Jae knew – her head was bare, silvery tresses bound in a tight bun and the long shapeless dress and grey shawl made her look dowdy and harmless; but the disguise would only go so far if she kept behaving like — like Stellar.
It doesn’t happen to me very often, but it was a wonderful thing to see a character step onto the page almost fully formed. I knew in a general way what her part was going to be in the story, but I’d never actually seen her in action until now – and she totally stole the scene.
It’s taken a big push this week to sort out a gaping plot hole, so it was a joy to write a character whose only agenda was to be part of a big national celebration. It also marked the start of a lighter sub-plot that looks like might be more fun than I’d previously imagined.
It never hurts to have a lighter element in a big story – a moment when a sunbeam breaks through the clouds. My favourite character in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is without a doubt Tyrion Lannister for that reason. Whatever he lacks in stature (he is a dwarf) he clearly makes up for with a sharp intelligence and a dry wit (often lost on other characters). No matter how dire his circumstance, Tyrion lightens the story merely because of his attitude and approach to life. With characters being killed off left right and centre, Tyrion’s character lets the reader take a well deserved breath before being pulled back into the darker mechanisms Martin seems to favour.
Other personal favourites include Emmett in Twilight. He doesn’t get much page time – but the way he winds Bella up about being married (and what that entails) in front of Charlie is classic young male behaviour – and funny. And his attitude when Bella beats him arm-wrestling was brilliant. (You can tell Stephenie Meyer had brothers).
Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series was another scene stealer – she almost always made you do a double-take whenever she spoke.
In a strange way Cara, the Mord-Sith in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series also falls into this category. Cara was essentially a very repressed magical warrior (doesn’t sound very light does it?), who was freed from serving an evil ruler early in the series, and had to learn what it meant to be free. Her blunt comments, and habit of speaking exactly what was on her mind (and being baffled when people reacted badly) were some of my favourite moments in the books.
There is a fine line between a touch of light and crossing the line into comedy. I have to say Grandma Mazur in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series must be my all time favourite light relief character. A funeral groupie, and totally age inappropriate – she always makes me laugh. But although she works well in Stephanie Plum’s dysfunctional family, a character so much larger than life might not work in a more serious story.
A great story strikes a good balance between light and shadow. I love taking my characters into hard places, but in my opinion there’s always a place for a little light.
How about you? Have you ever been surprised by a character? Who are your favourite characters that bring a bit of light relief into a serious story?