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Babblings about character development

As I’m currently fighting off a cold/potential bronchial infection and therefore find myself disinclined to pursue nonsedentary activities, I’ve been reading that vampire book set in WWII that I mentioned buying my last Miscellany Monday post. So far I’m wishing I’d gone for Keri Arthur or Kelley Armstrong. Or that I’d even decided to spend a bit more money and headed over to the humor section for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It’s not just the egregious typos, though the copy editor in me experiences a minor brain aneurysm each time I spot another one (at least once every twenty pages–one of which was “aa” for “as.” Seriously. “In” for “it” and “that” for “than” I can understand, but a proper spell check should’ve caught the “aa”). And I love the premise of it–that’s why I bought the book in the first place, why I passed over Keri Arthur and Kelley Armstrong for something that struck me as more original.

But the characterization is flat. Not just pancake-flat, because pancakes, I mean good, made-from-scratch pancakes, have some flavor. The characters in this book are cardboard-flat.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Cardboard with a dash of cinnamon. And for what it’s worth, cinnamon is my favorite spice.

Still.

I’ll finish the book, if only for a reminder of what I don’t want to write. And I will grant that this book contains multiple viewpoints–not just three or four, but–at a quick flip-through–nine. So due to space constraints, it’s that much more difficult to fully flesh out POV characters. It is possible, of course. Stephen King is excellent at this. The Stand comes to mind. Granted, The Stand is far longer than this book, but at the same time, the challenge of a short story is to develop characters in the space of 4,000 words or less. Using my math powers, 4,000 words times 9 equals 36,000 words, which is close to half the length of this book. So there still ought to be room for decent characterization.

The character that bothers me the most is a vampire named Eiche who, as far as I can tell, serves as the book’s main antagonist. The basic premise of the book is that Germany has enlisted the aid of German vampires to subdue the bloody English and make way for the Third Reich to take over. The vampires plan to betray rebel against the Germans, but it seems initially they’re willing to appear subservient for the sake of easy meals.

So Eiche and a team of other vampires have been sent to the town of Brytewood as a sort of advance guard/recon group. Honestly, I have to say that Eiche is starting to irritate me more and more. The scenes from his point of view consists largely of “How dare the mere mortal question him!” and “If only the puny human knew what Eiche really was…” Eiche’s arrogance is heavy-handed, and it seems that’s his only personality trait.

I don’t have to like the antagonist in a book. With urban fantasy, and most genre literature from The Lord of the Rings to–well, this book, you don’t go in expecting to sympathize with The Enemy. I don’t need it to be like the Dexter series, where the lines between Good Guy and Bad Guy get seriously blurred. But one of the first things writers learn, or should learn, about characters is that antagonists consider themselves the hero of their own story. They don’t see themselves as evil. And therefore, a good writer should carefully consider the antagonist’s goals and motivations, because it should be more complicated than “to beat the good guy” and “because he/she is evil.”

I’m not getting the sense that any more thought went into Eiche than what I put in that last sentence.

Some might say that I expect too much of my vampires. The fantasy world is full of monsters that are de facto evil: vampires, of course, and demons, incubi, succubi, werewolves, and all manner of beasties whose sole purpose, in their mythological roots, was to wreak havoc upon humans simply because they were evil. That the complicated, tortured vampire, didn’t come into vogue until Anne Rice, and since then, we’ve been slowly altering our monsters until they actually became figures of romance. But the root is pure evil.

Well, fine; it’s a writer’s prerogative to take a monster the pure-evil route–but in that case, don’t stick me in their POV for page after dreary page. I’d argue that the one-dimensional “this character is evil and that’s why they’re opposing the protagonist” characterization is more akin to a man (or woman) vs. nature plot–and when you get those, you don’t cut to the storm or hurricane’s POV, because there isn’t one, even if you personify it. It’s a force of nature, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to. No, instead of the storm, you stick with your protagonists. Because they have goals and motivations and thoughts and relationships with other characters and they’re interesting.

Or least, one would hope so.

I have more to write about–I thought about going into how I would’ve liked to have seen interactions among English vampires (mentioned in Eiche’s POV as being “effete” but have yet to make an appearance) and how the “vampires are superior to humans” and “Germans/the Aryan race are superior to everyone else” aspects would’ve played out in that respect. Would an English vampire be “better” to Eiche’s mind than a German human?

And I’d also thought how I could also better understand Eiche if he were to serve as a comparison to Hitler and Nazi Germany’s ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Because while I’d say that (if I may be permitted to compare historical and fictional persons) Hitler was more complicated than Eiche, I would put him firmly in the “evil” category. No shades of gray on that one; just evil. But the book certainly makes no sort of allusion that Eiche is to serve as an allegory for Hitler.

But that’s my English major resurfacing, five years after my graduation. I probably don’t need to go that deep an analysis for my historical urban fantasy.

And I have some sort of illness to fight, and a book to finish. I’ll try to save my energy and not throw the book against the wall when I get to Eiche’s scenes.

Or maybe I’ll just skip them. I doubt I’d miss much.

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