And I resurface yet again! Only briefly, though. For this post, I’m turning my blogging space over to Lindsey Duncan, author of the contemporary fantasy novel Flow, which has just been published by Double Dragon Publishing. And she’s a darn fine short story writer to boot.
So while I run off to do more grad school work, here’s Lindsey talking about character dynamics:
Since Barbara has kindly me offered me space on her blog, I wanted to talk about character dynamics and interaction between three main characters … using my recently-released novel Flow as an example. (There are arguably slightly more than three main characters in Flow, but this in case, I’m speaking of the protagonists, the characters who have positive interactions – mostly.)
Groupings of three characters are very common in fiction, whether the classic love triangle or other configurations without a name. One theory I encountered gives an obvious reason why. Draw a line between two characters and you have only two possible dynamics: how A reacts to B and how B reacts to A. This can be fine in short fiction, but doesn’t offer enough variety for a novel. (As always, exceptions exist – though in man-versus-nature stories, nature becomes a character.) Add a third character, and you have six potential dynamics. Add a fourth character, and you have a much larger number … one that gets unwieldy except in the most skilled hands.
So three characters is the ideal number to generate interesting interactions – without overwhelming the reader. In Flow, my two viewpoint characters – Kit and Chailyn – are joined by Hadrian. He was meant to provide them with further assistance, and I knew before I started writing that there would be a level of attraction between he and Chailyn, frustrated by the polar opposite nature of their outlook on life. She finds herself confused and saddened by his cynicism; he, in turn, is frustrated by her trust and optimism. And as Kit’s story progresses, some of their interaction revolves on how to deal with each discovery – invisibly pivoting around that third point, although she is not directly present in these conversations.
I already knew how Kit and Chailyn would interact, and because they meet multiple chapters before Hadrian entered the picture, I had time to explore their individual dynamic. Despite some points of friction, the two build trust quickly and serve as mutual tour guides – each explaining their respective worlds to the other. To face the challenges the novel throws at them, they have to be united early on.
The interaction I hadn’t considered when beginning Flow was the final pair – how Kit and Hadrian deal with each other. In many ways, the two characters have a lot in common: cynicism, a certain snarky sense of humor (oh, how I love snark – even just the word!) and some problems with authority. But these are qualities that, when shared, don’t lend themselves to peaceable contact. Unsurprisingly, the two have a lot of verbal sparring, mutual suspicion, and guarded reactions. At least initially, most of the hostility is on Kit’s side, while Hadrian is avidly curious and perhaps understands why the two women might not appreciate his inserting himself uninvited. But that pendulum swings as the story progresses …
Had I stuck with the two female leads, I would have had a relatively simple dynamic – with its own tension and variety, but resulting in only a single thread. Also, I would have been left with some balance issues. To have two characters in a constant state of harmony or friction can become boring, but a loss of tension can drag down the whole story. With the addition of Hadrian, I could switch up where the points of tension happened. Kit and Hadrian might have reached an understanding (an interaction almost sibling-like, perhaps) at the same time Chailyn and Hadrian clashed over their opposing views. Having three characters at the center of the novel allowed me a wide variety of possibility along various characters arcs, from suspicion to trust, from blind trust to real friendship, and from mutual bewilderment to … well, I say no more.
Another advantage is allowing two of the characters to discuss the other in her (or his) absence … though that often says more about the speakers than the third party. Of course, the trio don’t exist in isolation: they encounter other characters throughout the course of the story, and again, having three characters gives me a range of possible responses. Where two may concur – sometimes – three rarely have the same outlook.
Overall, I feel that having three central characters made the core of Flow stronger. In a novel that for me was so much about the characters, each individual helped to illuminate the other two.
LINDSEY DUNCAN is the author of contemporary fantasy Flow, just released by Double Dragon Publishing. Flow follows the water-witch Chailyn, on dry land for her first mission, and Kit, a contemporary teen with mysterious powers, as they seek the man who killed Kit’s mother … a goal which catches the interest of the darkest of fairies. They must also deal with the Borderwatch, a zealous organization that hunts fairies and has been in a cold war with the water-witches for decades.
Flow can be found here: