I’ll admit it, I’m cheating on the writing challenge yet again.
My life is chock full of astounding characters. Mom, usually so gentle, so patient, who goes off like a bomb if you so much as lay a finger on one of her beloved cows; Dad, who is your typical teddy-bear-wearing-armour guy and has a poetic streak that usually manifests itself in crude Afrikaans ditties; and guns and roses Rain who fires a 9mm handgun with as much poise and ease as she spins a triple pirouette ending in a gorgeous arabesque. Clif the Canadian who has a despairingly odd sense of humour and plays the violin insanely well. And who can forget the Horse Mutterer, who adores horses (but calls them all stupid) and has a very large soft spot for little girls (but calls them all annoying)?
Of course, Lord Jesus has the biggest character of them all; He’s got so much personality that it all overflows into three amazing People – the Father God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The 66 books of that glorious Bible still can’t capture every last facet of His amazing character; I don’t think anyone will know Him in full until that final lovely day when we go to spend eternity with Him.
But today, I’ll be introducing you to my protagonist, Sir Flannery Hildebrand. Regulars at CWT will have heard of him a few times before, here and here, but today I’d like to show some of the sketching process that I use to figure out my characters before I even start a novel.
The first manifestation of Sir Flann was as a grumpy fortysomething war veteran with one lame leg, a bad attitude and a troubled past. His disability landed him a job as a teacher, which he just knew he was going to mess up; he nearly did, too, but his powerful protective streak shone through and he and his students ended up rescuing the entire march of Bentley from evil monsters. (They usually end up rescuing something from evil monsters, in my stories).
The original Flann’s character sketch was something like this:
Sir Flann has turned a soldier of fortune, but few will hire him; even though he is still unsurpassed as a mounted warrior, his wound rendered him hardly able to walk, let alone fight on foot. Eventually he is hired by Lord Logan of Bentley to teach four teenagers the art of knighthood. Sir Flann is cynical but committed; like most soldiers he has built himself a prickly armour and he needs shaking up to get out of his prickles.
That was almost eighteen months ago, in an entirely different novel that never really came to be and didn’t even have a title. I ditched it eventually; it chased its tail, never went anywhere, and, OK, let’s be honest, 16-year-olds were not made to write from the point of view of 40-year-olds.
But I had fallen in love with Flann Hildebrand. Even the early Flann was a sensitive man who hid his compassion under a mask of cynicism and snark, and something about his distinctive voice – the sarcasm and self-deprecation mixed with quiet honour, sensitivity and a dose of arrogance – caught my imagination. The story was doomed, but I had to keep writing Sir Flann.
I already had a vague idea of my story’s premise: troubled young knight plays bodyguard to gentle prince and they end up strengthening themselves, each other and their country to the point of winning the war that threatens its future. (He ended up being a lot more than a bodyguard, somewhat mundanely summing up his roles as follows: “Officially, I’m still the bodyguard, but I have a lot of hats: Master of Horses, Threader of Needles, Shouter-at of Annoying Rookies, Trainer of the Fyrd, Royal Advisor, Royal Shoulder to Cry Upon, Royal Kick-up-the-Pants Giver and Royal Pain being but a few of them.”) I had to turn my grim old knight into a young knight who had grown up too fast. This is the abridged version of the revised Flann’s character sketch:
knighted at 15
exceptionally talented with horse and sword
mature, rather too much so
has his doubts about religion, and tends to question, but is trying to be faithful
unwilling to love
close only to Tariq [his horse. You knew that was coming]
built a prickly armour around himself, even at his tender age
tries very hard not to care either about his charges or about the people and monsters he has to kill to protect them, but he really wants to care and keeps on building this armour in case he gets hurt, having experienced the hurt in the past
terrified of snakes
detests ponies, reading, the colour pink, small children (especially babies), incompetent people and jesters. Secretly, he likes music, and is a surprisingly good nurse. He used to sing to Annie Belle [his sister] but stopped after her death, just mouthing the words of anthems and hymns. He’s very easily annoyed and snappish and can be arrogant on occasion.
Demetrius [the Prince] reminds him of Annie Belle, so he reflexively distances himself from him. Janessa [the Princess] annoys the brains out of him. He hates being called Flannery, claiming it’s a girl name, and tells everyone to call him either Flann or Hildebrand.
You can see that some aspects of Flann’s character are the same in both sketches. (And yes, for your information, “prickly armour” is a crutch of mine. Why’d you ask?) Basically, he’s a collection of bad habits and worse memories posing as a heartless cynic to hide his pain. All he needs is someone to come along with the Word of God and get Jesus to clean him up so that his courage, commitment, loyalty and tremendously protective nature can shine through.
Last of all, here is an excerpt from Another Sword, featuring the new Sir Flann at his most Flannesque. I still have a lot to clean up here, but I love this character and his voice (most of the time). Critiques are very welcome!
This is set in a banqueting hall at Kimbraley Castle somewhere near the end of the tale, when Sir Flann is pondering on whether he will leave Prince Demetrius and Princess Janessa (collectively referred to as “the royals”) at Kimbraley and go back to the capital, Ardara, to fight for the King, or stay and look after them.
A beautiful, arched, stained-glass window is set in the wall just there, looking out over the battlemented walls and into the dark forest towards Ardara. Will I be riding that way soon? With the moon lying like a glowing scimitar over the black hills and a few small stars opening their cold eyes, it looks like a sinister route to take. I think of King Carrigan alone in his office with his tired eyes and stupid white dog, and a hot, wet knot gathers in my throat. A dark spot appears in my vision and I blink hard. Ugh. I think I’m tearing up. How embarrassing. But, wait, that’s not just a spot. It’s a silhouette in the window; a sharp shape, blotting out the stars, the corner of a wing flicking across the moon –
“Down!” I yell, diving over the table. I plant one hand on Demetrius’s back and the other on Janessa’s neck and the three of us tumble to the floor. We roll against the wall below the window and I grab the royals and haul as much of their bodies under mine as I can. Something hits the window with a crash so loud it sounds like the air exploded, followed by the splintering of glass and sharp bites of pain as the fragments rain down on me.
The glass has barely had time to fall before I’m on my feet with my broadsword in my hands, searching for the attacker. I spot it gliding up near the roof; a gigantic eagle, bigger than I’ve ever seen before, talons longer than fingers, a great hooked beak like a curving knife.
From my post “Your Castle is on Fire”, you’ll have heard some of Flann’s sarcasm. Here, there’s little or none, because Flann is at his best whenever he needs to rescue someone. Luckily, I give the poor dude quite a lot of rescuing to do throughout the story. 😉
Your turn, readers. Writers, who’s your favourite character? Care to share a snippet? Readers, who’s the most well-written character you’ve read? I’m dying to hear from you.