Howard Andrew Jones: Love Your Character

Fantasy author Howard Andrew Jones has been a guest of the Writer's Symposium for many years now, and here, he shares some of his advice on how to create characters you love, and how your characters can give you clues if you are stuck!

I guess it should probably go without saying that if you want to write fiction well you have to be in love with your characters. I don’t mean the creepy, smoochy Pygmalion kind of love. I’m talking about finding them fascinating, interesting, compelling and simply fun to work with.

If you’re familiar with my writing mistakes list ( then you know my caveat that if you have to invent scenes to give a character something to do that character may not belong in the narrative anymore. All fiction writing is inventing scenes for characters to act in, of course, so what I mean by that is that if the character doesn’t fit into the narrative well, or you’re repeatedly stumped finding things for that character to do in the story, maybe the character doesn’t belong.

This can apply to the larger scale. Sometimes I find that some characters are just more fun to write. Speaking from experience, every chapter I wrote from the point of view of Lisette in Stalking the Beast was like cake. I had to revise virtually none of her chapters because I could hear her voice so very clearly. I liked writing from her viewpoint so much that I immediately pitched the idea of some novels from her perspective to Paizo’s James Sutter, a project I’ve unfortunately been too busy to follow up on. Someday.

It’s not that I didn’t like the other characters. It’s just that some have an kind of extra oomph that makes them easier to write. If you find those, hang on to them and keep finding stuff for them to do.

Allow me to illustrate with another example. The current work in progress has been a long time stewing. I was working with characters and concepts from it at least 25 years ago. The problem was that despite all the fascinating characters I kept having trouble finding the right point of view. (Earlier on there were more significant problems, like inexperience with novel plotting and the like.)

The reason I’m writing this post today is that after about a year with the new incarnation of the story I realized I just didn’t much care about the character with the point of view. I knew she needed to be there, but I wasn’t really interested in where she came from, and I didn’t know her story arc. I was far more interested in the characters around her, one of whom, an old wise woman, was slated to be met soon and then… well, if the wise woman were introduced to the narrative, what would the POV character do anymore? I resolved to keep interaction with the new character to a minimum and then to give her something else to do, away from the main plot.

But the wise woman was SO much more interesting than the POV character. Finally it hit me. I’d eliminate the POV character and make this character they were going to meet, the old wise woman, the POV character. Except it wouldn’t be her as an old wise woman, but a clever younger woman who hadn’t quite hit her peak yet. I knew HER arc, her background, the abilities she would come to master.

Suddenly everything started clicking into place and I fell in love with the story again. At this point I’m having a hard time stopping writing (or revising, as the case may be) at night and wake up thinking about the work in the morning. I keep hoping one of these days that this stuff will come more easily to me so I can get these stories onto paper faster…

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (Thomas Dunne Books 2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, made Kirkus’s New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is the author of two Pathfinder novels, Plague of Shadows and Stalking the Beast, and an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity.

Howard was the driving force behind the rebirth of interest in Harold Lamb’s historical fiction, and assembled and edited 8 collections of Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He served as Managing Editor of Black Gate magazine from 2004 onward, and still blogs regularly at the magazine web site.

When not helping run his small family farm or spending time with his wife and children, he can be found hunched over his laptop or notebook, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted towers. He’s worked variously as a TV cameraman, a book editor, a recycling consultant, and most recently, as a writing instructor at a mid-western college.

Listen to Howard and other great authors talk about the craft, business, and industry of writing at the Gen Con Writer's Symposium! Check out the schedule and register for events early--most are free but seats are limited!