If you had to choose between heroes and villains which one would it be? Would you prefer your heroes/villains to be flawless or not and how dark should the dark be? Cas Peace will be here today to answer those, and many more, questions about heroes and villains, and about her writing. Please, give her a warm welcome!
Psst… I’d definitely go with the villain… 😉
What makes a great hero or villain?
I think this is a topic that exercises every writer at least once in his or her writing career. Because we all hope to create fascinating characters that readers want to learn about, want to become involved with; either to root for or to hate. But more than that, the writer wants characters that he or she enjoys spending time with; whether to revel in a heroic character’s triumphs, draw out their nuances of regret, chagrin or self-blame when they fail, or to delight in a villain’s inventive evil. The question of what makes a great hero or villain will depend largely on the writer’s own choices and opinions on the topics of good or evil.
For me, the greatest characters are those with the deepest flaws, be they heroes or villains. I believe it’s possible to create a fascinating character out of the most worn-out clichéd formula provided that character possesses unforeseen or unexpected flaws and traits. My two favorite characters from my own work are my Artesans heroine, Sullyan, and my Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters hero, Jorj.
Sullyan, in many ways and despite her great powers, is a reluctant heroine. She is a soldier through and through; she lives only for her duty and to serve her king. It is her raison d’être. Her company is all the family she needs. She nurtures the men under her command as carefully as any child; her pride in their skills is complete. Her Artesan powers are kept separate from her military skills to avoid elitism; regarded more as a personal trait rather than tools to routinely employ. Yet never underestimate her—she will use those powers when they’re needed!
Jorj, from my Heroika 1 short story The Wyght Wyrm, is similarly reluctant to assume the mantle of hero. He is beset by self-doubt, having been sorely tested in the Crusades. He questions his skills, his faith, and his motivation. Yet when faced with the very real need of those less able than himself, he suffers no hesitation in offering his expertise. For me, that is the real definition of a hero: someone who aids those weaker than themselves with no thought for personal safety.
How difficult is it to write a believable hero/heroine who is a different gender to the writer?
I guess this all depends on how good the writer is at placing themselves into someone else’s head. This, of course, is essential for creating great characters anyway, regardless of their gender, but with heroes and heroines it can be even more important because by their definition they will act according to skill and instinct. Men and women have different skill sets, and it can be fun exploring these within the parameters of their gender. I like writers to present heroic characters who don’t just rely on physical or mental dexterity. Great physical strength is not necessarily a prerequisite for a heroic character, be they male or female. Neither are sleuthing skills, great intelligence, or cunning. I like my characters to have a mix of all, or some, of these, but I also like them to perhaps be lacking in heroic traits, yet still succeed as credible heroes.
My Artesans heroine, Sullyan, was easy for me, as a woman, to write. I simply based her ethics, her needs, and her loyalties on what, for me, are ideals. Yet due to my own personal life experiences, I was also able to add nuances of loneliness, of tragedy, of loss, and a measure of self-doubt. I enjoyed exploring how someone who had managed to acquire (through diligence and hard graft) a considerable amount of power might view her own potential, both for good and for evil. With great power comes great responsibility, and I wanted there to be an element of uncertainty within Sullyan’s makeup; an area of darkness that could, potentially, cause her to turn her powers toward evil.
My Heroika hero, Jorj, being male, was more of a challenge. He is a knight, so it would have been easy to make him a sword-wielding, confident soldier; one who would instantly leap to the defense of those unable to defend themselves. Yet I needed a core of uncertainty within him, something that would make him question his skills and his service to his lord. A vulnerable hero is more likable than a gung-ho thug, however well meaning his intentions. So Jorj becomes affected by the conflicts he experiences in the Holy Land, conflicts both of faith and of territory, and he struggles to resolve them through his conscience. He is a man of violence for whom violence is not the answer; yet violence is too often the tool he must use.
Darkness or light?
I think it is essential to combine a measure of both darkness and light within each character in a novel, regardless of whether they are hero or villain. There are exceptions, of course, but people are rarely purely good or purely evil, and it’s those subtle variations of good and bad that create rounded, fully formed characters. Yet most writers, I think, would admit to being drawn more to one side than the other. It can be great fun writing an evil, villainous character; they often have the juciest roles, and writers can flex their creative muscles and vicariously enjoy the exploits of their characters as they perform acts the writer would never consider. We all have darkness within us, and it can be an eye-opening and cathartic experience writing a truly “dark” villain. With my own evil characters I’ve often wondered how or why such writing comes so easily. I’m not a great fan of the horror genre, yet the ease with which I wrote the evil acts perpetrated by the villain in my final Artesans series, Master of Malice, really did shock me. Do I really contain such dark thoughts within me, or were they placed there by books I have read, TV programs or films I have watched? I’d like to think the latter, but I suspect they were part of my nature from the start. Writing villains allows us to let the devil out of his cage, even if only in the bounds of a novel. I only hope I locked him up again securely once I’d written the final word!
Why not write a kick-ass heroine?
I have often said that my main reason for writing my epic Artesans of Albia series was to create the kind of heroine I felt was lacking in the fantasy genre. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant—I was by no means sure I could do it—but I wanted to try. Maybe I always read the wrong novels, but in my early experience, “heroines” were either scantily-clad, unlikely-proportioned beauties who were only there to showcase the hero, or they were bad-ass, kick-ass, foul-mouthed hellions with no redeeming qualities. I found neither of these sterotypes believeable. Two early influences on my ideas of what a heroine should be came first from Anne McCaffrey, with her Pern series. Lessa was an intelligent woman with great inner resources, but she was not your typical female heroine. She could be waspish and had a temper, yet she also had a softer, more feminine side. My other great influence was C J Cherryh with her Chronicles of Morgaine. My own heroine, Sullyan, owes much to Morgaine who, for me, was the epitome of a realistic female fantasy character. I wanted Sullyan to have a complex nature, to sometimes be illogical, to be someone who reacted instinctively as well as being capable of careful planning and strategic decisions. Much more interesting to read, as well, I hope!
When do character flaws become strengths?
This is an interesting one because we all have flaws and most of us view them in a negative light. The very word is negative when used in the context of judging perfection. Yet “flaw” can also mean a squall of wind, and such things can be unpredictable, and can blow away preconceptions, making us look at things in a different light. So I prefer to see what others might call character flaws as opportunities for my characters to show another side to themselves, a side my readers might not expect. It keeps characters fresh and stops them behaving in a predictable and boring way. So although my Heroika 1 character Jorj is a knight, and might be expected to behave in a certain way and use his skills in a particular manner, his nature is always to question what he does, and his motivations for his actions.
I have already mentioned two authors who inspired me at the beginning of my writing career, and as an avid fantasy reader, I would have to add Tolkien and C S Lewis to the list of early influences. Since becoming a full-time writer, I’d have to add people like Sir Terry Pratchett, Juliet Marillier, and James Barclay. More recently, my association with Chris and Janet Morris has been hugely influential on my writing career, as well as the many, many fantastic writers I’ve come to know and work with since launching my Writers’ Services. It’s amazing how many fabulous writers there are out there – too many still awaiting that longed-for publishing break!
Writing career aspirations?
I’m coming to the end of my epic, triple-trilogy fantasy series “Artesans of Albia” (the final book will probably be published by the end of 2016, or the beginning of 2017), so I will be free to concentrate on other projects. My Writers’ Services editing and proofreading business takes up a great deal of time, and I also have an idea for a YA prequel to “Artesans.” But the success of the Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters anthology, and the many favorable comments I’ve recieved about my own contribution The Wyght Wyrm has left me thinking I might try writing more short stories. They are a great way of exploring different genres and styles before taking the plunge into a full-length novel, and I have had success with them in the past. I contributed a story to the British Fantasy Society 40th Anniversary anthology, Full Fathom Forty, and also had stories accepted into online magazines. So I think those are my next steps in the wonderful world of writing.
Cas Peace was born and brought up in the lovely county of Hampshire in the UK, where she still lives. On leaving school, she trained for two years before qualifying as a teacher of equitation. During this time she also learned to carriage-drive. She then spent thirteen years in the British Civil Service before moving to Rome, Italy, where she and her husband Dave lived for three years. They return whenever they can.
As well as her love of horses, Cas is mad about dogs; especially Lurchers. She currently owns two rescue Lurchers, Milly and Milo. Cas loves country walks, working in stained glass, growing cacti, and folk singing. She is currently working on writing and recording songs or music for each of her fantasy books, five of which are available to download (free!) from her website. You can also find Cas on http://www.reverbnation.
Cas’s first novel in the triple-trilogy Artesans of Albia fantasy series, King’s Envoy, was awarded a HarperCollins Authonomy Gold Medal in 2008. The novel has since gone on to become an Amazon UK Bestseller, and was shortlisted for the 2015 BookViral Book Awards. Cas is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Details and other information can be found on her website: http://www.caspeace.com.
Links: (these are Georiot links, so they take each reader to their most convenient location).
Thank you for a very interesting interview, Cas! I’m sure my readers will find this as fascinating as I did. I have to confess I’ve never heard about Georiot links before, but will for sure look into it now. Thanks for the tip!