General Writing

Making Character Lists More Interesting

Fantasy novels tend to have a lot of characters. The Bone Ransom, the novel I am currently querying, has thirty-two, if you count off-stage and historical figures with names, although that number plunges to twenty if I only include those who actually appear. That’s far from the largest cast I’ve come across, but big enough that a list of characters seems to be called for. But character lists are boring to raead, even if useful as an occasional reference. How, I wondered, could they be made more interesting?

I found my answer in Lindsey Davis’ mystery novels set in ancient Rome. Davis plays it safe, titling her lists “Principal Characters” – a wise precaution, since unless you keep track as you write, it’s easy to miss a few. More to the point, her list is not just a dry description of each character, but often includes wry comments. Often, these comments can only be fully appreciated after you have finished the book. For example, her list in Two for the Lions, the first of her books I found on the shelves, includes “Maia: Falco’s younger sister, looking for her chance,” followed by “Famia: Maia’s husband, looking for a drink.” The same list includes “Pompius Urtica: a praetor who never did anything illegal” and “Iddibal: a far from beastly bestiarius.” With entries like these, Davis’ Principle Characters are always fun to read just for themselves.

In the same spirit, my list now contains entries like “Talson: a teenage boy corrupted by stories” and “Skulae: Talson’s sister. Nothing is her fault.” Other entries I am fond of include “Aglachad Torhte: Second Cousin to the Ravenpipers and not important enough” and (for a member of the undead) “Leel: A housecarl who has let herself go.” Whether readers will appreciate these remarks remains to be seen, but they definitely made compiling the list more enjoyable for me.

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