Finding the Familiar in the Other

One of the things people notice right away about Olde School is that the bulk of the characters are nonhuman. I’ve done panels on writing the “other” recently, and it kind of shocks me that there has to be a “way” to go about writing these characters.

I’ve seen probably two distinct uses of nonhuman characters in fiction. Either they’re mindless adversaries (usually monstrous or huge in number) for the protagonist to go up against, or they’re a somewhat-more developed character. Sometimes this is limited to showing that the faeries are conniving, the vampires political or sexy, the werewolves aggressive – usually in a lot of short urban fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with that. They fill their use and the parts of the story they’re in well. In the really good fiction, though, they’re more well-developed and play pivotal parts of the story.

For me, though, it was important to retain the parts of the characters that make them “other,” but also give them realistic personalities. Who they are affects the story as much as what they are.

As Olde School developed, it was very important to me that things not be gimicky. Sure, a lot of the book is silly, a lot of it is quirky, but I didn’t want things to be a one-note joke. I wanted there to be a full-bodied world with a lush history, and I needed full characters to inhabit it. For me, this meant questioning what these creatures were versus who they were.

Why does a troll have to be dumb and mean? Why can’t he be a compassionate, yet somewhat passive, businessperson? What challenges would he face if he had that sort of personality? How could he carry a story? That became the basis of Paddlelump Stonemonger and the source of many,many frustrating late nights of editing.

Could trolls carry on decent friendships even if they were a little more traditional and crotchety? Where would they hang out? What if they were old men types hanging out in a diner? Thus began the lives of Ippick and Uljah.

What kind of an occupation would an ogre have? How about a pixie? What if they didn’t look quite like we’ve become accustomed to seeing them? What if they had their own motivations and personalities that weren’t quite simpatico with what we’ve been led to believe?

How about the humans? Are all princes handsome and valiant in Kingdom City? (short answer: bwahaha, no.) What do modern princes and princesses do? Would they still be connecting with each other for a love connection? What if there was a princess who obeyed the rules of older stories and went out to seek her fortune, but didn’t have the pristine motivations that her ancestors might have? And what about the non-royal humans? What if you were a waitress or a schoolgirl? Would you be bitter about your lot in life? Would you keep your chin high and be proud of your work ethic? Who would you associate with? What if you had secrets of your own?

And, of course, what would magic be like if it manifested in a world like this? Are talking animals always helpful? Are rituals and curses what they seem to be? What if they’re controlled by something else that’s vaguely close to the rules of the Fae, but far more terrifying in its true form?

And, of course, what if dwarves were heavy metal rock stars instead of holing up in mines all day?

Can these types of characters be as confused about strange situations as we would in our own lives? What about their daily, mundane lives? What are those like? How do they interact with each other? What’s their history together in the city like?

Yeah, I like to play with things, but these questions really got me started looking at the full range of possibilities in the characters. I like a lot of different types of stories, and I was intrigued as an adult discovering the work of Holly Black, because she does have some nonhuman side characters that hold their own. That really, really inspired me to push myself as hard as I could and see if I could populate the majority of my cast with nonhuman or Folk type characters and have people identify with them. Is the casing really as important as the heart?

It’s pleased me that a lot of people have gotten behind Paddlelump, Flora, Clyde, and even Nobody to really explore what makes these characters – and Kingdom City, itself – tick. There’s a lot more to show and discover, and embracing the “other” quirks and characteristics and using them in new ways while still giving the characters a sense of integrity is important to me. I’m glad to see that so far it seems to be fun for others, as well.


Book One of The Kingdom City Chronicles

Kindle       Amazon Paperback     Nook    B&N Paperback     Kobo

Cross-Genre: Fantasy, Fairy/Folktale, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Horror

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

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