Creating Kallan

Kallan. Today, she is like my sister. My subconscious. My best friend. She is quiet and reserved and she stands at 6’2”, always to my right, watching me: waiting for when I need her, waiting for the moment when I sit down and continue her story. She is currently standing in Lorlenalin where I left her in the beginning of Book 3. She wears a blue dress and a cape from the 10th century. She always wears her dark brown hair down and loose. It’s slightly wavy, but not quite curly. She has a pouch tied to her hip. Her hands are elegant and slender and strong, but when she takes up the sword fastened to her side, she moves with the mastery of a swordsman. She looks somber, and serious, and is very, very angry. She has a goal, not so much a dream. Her dreams have died. She hates and has forgotten little else because of her goal.

 

Kallan once loved horses. She once loved children and enjoyed sword fighting. Once, she loved the Jul festival and cloudberry jam and playing with Eilif in Lorlenalin’s center square. Once. Now Kallan only hates.

 

This is my main character. One of them. I can hear the flux in her voice when she speaks. I can see her eyes, her skin. To me, she is very real. But Kallan wasn’t always this clear. I remember when I first created her, she came to me in a whirlwind of anger.

 

In 2007, I had decided to be a writer. I had some stories. Three, in fact, but not Tales of the Drui. Tales came to me in parts. And it all stemmed from Kallan’s creation.

 

I had taken a course in writing and had written numerous shorts and poems. I knew I wanted to write novels, but wasn’t quite sure what yet. I was studying genre writing and so, was reading every non-fiction and commercial fiction book I could get my hands on. Romance, YA, classic lit, sci-fi, fantasy, history, upmarket, fiction…I read everything.

 

One book (I shall never reveal the author or the book title. I shall never confirm the genre), made me angry. Very angry. The story was about a group of women who were kidnapped by a society of males. The women loved it. Despite being abducted from their families, they were thrilled with the circumstances and had no qualms about copulating with their kidnappers. The women were shallow, ignorant, and weak among many other things. The whole story revolved around the main character who refused to “give in” to this spectacle. By the end of the book, she caved and they all lived happily ever after with their kidnappers.

 

Mind you, I read this to research a genre. I had to finish it.

 

I threw the book and, in a resounding voice, screamed, “I will do better! I will create a woman who will be strong and brave and intelligent! She will be a warrior…and an elf…and a witch! She will be queen! Yes! And she will be smart and witty! And I will name her Kallan!”

 

And so I did. That is how Kallan came to be. In a fit of rage mid-tantrum, Kallan burst to life in my imagination and existed. But, way back then…seven years ago…Queen Kallan was little more than a tall, warrior elf-witch. I had to develop her. I had to shape her and build her from nothing. I had to carve Kallan into the magnificent strong-willed warrior I see gazing out my bedroom window steeped in dolor. To do this, I needed to start somewhere.

 

Physique. I needed to assign physical traits to her body. I selected her eye color, her hair color, height, frame, build, scars (if any), skin color, quirks, and habits. Kallan bites her bottom lip when she’s nervous. She plays with Seidr when she’s bored. She rides off on Astrid when she’s overwhelmed. But this was only the surface. I needed to assign hates and desires, dreams and goals, for Kallan. Yes, Kallan loves her horse, Astrid. But why. Why does she love horses? Kallan loves children. There is a why.

 

Very soon, I hit a roadblock when I realized, there was no back-story. So I went back 700 years to Kallan’s youth. All the way back when she lived in Svartálfaheim, before Kallan’s mother had died.

 

Backstory.

 

Backstory defines everything. Once I developed Kallan’s back-story, the loves and hates, her motivation and current story goal was easy. Too easy, so easy I wondered why I didn’t start with the backstory. If you know a character fell through some ice when they were ten, it’s only logical that they would have a phobia of water as an adult.

 

Don’t ever try to build characterization without a backstory. To do so any other way, is like starting life as an adult and working your way back to our youth as in the case of Benjamin Button. See the babe, the five-year old, the twelve and sixteen-year old. If you can see the nineteen-year old, you can easily see the thirty and forty-year old with the story you want to tell.

 

Parentage and fears.

 

Don’t neglect their parents, mentors, and instructors. Don’t forget about fear. Fear is a very real thing everyone feels and experiences. It defines us. Even the individual without any fear has cause to be fearless. Pay careful mind to their fears.

 

I love the movie Twins. You have two characters with opposing characteristics because of their environment. Arnold Schwarzenegger depicts the “perfect man” while Danny DeVito depicts the “left overs”. Yes, it’s horrible to say, but even Schwarzenegger wasn’t perfect. He was still broken. He still didn’t know his mother, and that affected him.

 

My point for discussing this movie is because perfect, happy characters have no story to tell. We have a story because of the conflict. There is a problem that must be solved and that is where story develops. It’s in the “what is the problem” and “how is it solved”? In short, that is the formula for writing story. The kind and size of the problem determines your genre, by the way.

 

So how do you create problem? Believe that problem is not born from the plot, but comes from the character.

 

When I had Kallan, I still had no story. I decided that Kallan needed a problem. She needed a goal. She was abducted, she wanted to get home, but she couldn’t. That was my basic plot. Now I added a twist. She had to rely on her enemy to help her. Now I gave her a weakness. Ironically, Kallan’s weakness was that she was so strong, she couldn’t accept help from others. Her own strength was her weakness.

 

Kallan was abducted. So were those women. But Kallan wanted. Kallan desired. Now we have conflict. Why did Kallan want to go home? What was home that made Kallan need to get there? Now we have story. But in order to create the “why” and the “want”, Kallan needed a backstory. She needed a history that fueled her need to want.

 

This is where I developed Kallan’s past.

 

At this stage, I had been writing for three of the seven years. I had been working on the second re-write and Kallan was physical, and emotionally defined. But something else was missing. Something else made Kallan distant and unreal.

 

I had another four years ahead of me before I could define Kallan’s missing piece.

 

It came to me through my beta readers. Three of my beta readers consistently said the same thing to me. They all hated Kallan. They didn’t care about her. A fourth beta reader said they were “upset” for Kallan, but barely. I had to go back and examine why.

 

I returned to the books and the forums. I read through as much as I could find about characterization and that is where I found my answer. I had focused so much energy into making Kallan strong and stubborn. I forgot to make her loveable. I forgot to add what Kallan loves. I failed to define this in the first chapter.

 

I re-wrote the story, one last time. This time I re-evaluated Kallan. I added the children and her love for cloudberries.  I added Kallan’s motive and her goal to help the children. Kallan must help the children, because she was once just like them. In many ways, she is still one of them. I added reason to her existence. I added a level of humanity to Kallan that I had neglected to show. The change breathed life into Kallan.

 

At once, Kallan became a living breathing human, so when she shuts down, when she fights and struggles and loses her battles, we care, because Kallan is human.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Angela