Fantasy: with real characters

Today, I will kick off a collaborative series about the realism of fantasy literature. In this series a bunch of German bloggers and authors will discuss, how certain real life problems are presented and elaborated in fantasy novels. Often, fantasy novels are quite critical of society, politics and other realistic problems. And in a way, that topic fits perfectly with my page theme, so today I will start off with how I develop realistic characters.


People in magical worlds still dealt with real-life problems. They usually just had bigger ones on top of that. (Zitat aus „Far beyond Reality“)


Behind the magic

You’re writing fantasy? But that’s only fictional, isn’t it? Why don’t you write something real? That’s more or less the kind of response you’ll get, when you tell anyone you’re writing fantasy novels. All those fantastic worlds are just fictional, of course, and there’s no magic in reality or elves, dwarves and demons. But the stories behind it, the characters in it, they are as real as you and me.

The times, when Hercules mastered one great deed after the other without so much as a hick-up or when shining knights stood up for justice without the sliver of doubt are over. Today, people want to get more out of their favourite characters. As a reader we want to know about the challenges our heroes have to face. We want to read, how the characters grow with their experiences! We want to accompany him on his hero’s journey, be with him when he rises above his fears and insecurities and makes peace with his past. The epic battle over the world are just the special effects in our blockbuster.


Hercules’ victory over the centaur

The character as the result of his environment

When I develop my characters, they don’t appear in a vacuum. At first, there’s the society. What rights do men and women have? Which role does religion play? Is there a class system, racism or freedom of speech? All those decision I’ve made during world-building are vitally important for my character development. I can’t have a whole bunch of misogynistic characters, when their country has been practising gender equality for half a millennia.

Of course, there will always be exceptions: People that rebel against the system or assholes that have radicalised themselves. Revolution is nothing new in fantasy, often culminating in a violent rise against the system and subsequent modern development of the once medieval world. But what I find really exciting, is trying to build the characters within the system. Especially if the world’s value system does not resemble our modern values, you always have to ask the question: How would a character act, feel and think within this society?

When you’re done with the society part, you need to take the personal environment into account. This could be his or her family, friends or even the whole village. We all know that. Some of our values we adopted from our parents, some despite of them. Other values have been adapted by us after thinking about them for a long time. And thus, when we develop our character, we need to think about what values and experiences he or she grew up with. Of course, each individual will turn out differently.

My aim is to develop my figures in such a way, that each decision they will make in my story is an organic result of my prior decisions. And that’s the moment, when your characters take over and you mourn your carefully crafted plot 😉


The experimental lab of fantasy literature

Fantasy literature is an ideal way of experimenting with human nature. In this medium we can switch up the boundary conditions of our world. We can ask ourselves, how it would change a people when you live eternally like Tolkien’s elves. We could also explore how people would cope with nightly demon attacks as in Peter V. Brett’s ‘Painted Man’.

Within the fantasy genre we have this giant lab where we can push humans to their limit. How do you cope with the responsibility of being the chosen one – or the chosen one that will destroy the world? What do you pick, if duty and family are at odds with each other? And of course that very thought intensifies when we develop whole races that are different than ours.

In Insignia of Magic, my Urban Fantasy series, I have asked all these questions of my demons. They are entirely different from my humans. But it is not just their magical prowess. It’s their whole view of the world. My demons live for the absolute freedom with no thought about anyone else. They see our morals as something we’re shackling ourselves with. Wars against a group that is different than us, may that difference be religious, ethnological or just a different mind-set, are entirely beyond their comprehension. Only the individual is of notice. Having this mind-set as a base to experiment with while keeping the inner logic of the race, is a lot of fun. It also widens the horizon when looking at cultural differences in the real world.

Melchius aus Zeichen der Macht

An early drawing of Melchius – Insignia of Magic, Season 1


The realistic inner life of fantasy characters

It’s no secret that my stories are very character-driven. My knight in shining armour in Ravenblood is not so intriguing because he is a lawfully good character and has a strong moral compass. The real crux is that he struggles with remaining lawful and good in a world that continues to worsen around him and how hard it can be to keep holding onto your principles. And doesn’t everyone agree that we are mostly fascinated by those deeply broken characters that battle with their inner demons?

I often like to take a step further. Often enough, fantasy literature tends to get over traumatic experiences surprisingly quick and unscarred. Mostly, you encounter that phenomenon while roleplaying. There, you get the former, deeply scarred sex slave who finds the love of his life within two weeks. Of course, the two of them practically live in the bed from then on. It’s a common trend that we love to develop dramatic background stories that remain entirely in the background.

I try to take a different approach. My hero in Ravenblood only manages to get over the traumatic event of his youth in the fourth and final book. When my characters go to war, some come back with PTS. Also, I like to give other mental health issues a spotlight. If you want to be more specific, you could say that it is quickly becoming part of my trademark to focus on such disabilities.

Rise of the Raven

Rise of the Raven, Book 3 of Ravenblood

And these are the characters and stories that I want to read about in fantasy literatur as well. But…


What do you need to develop a realistic character

Even if your fantasy characters battle with supernatural problems, they often face the same challenges we do. Often the hero questions himself whether he is good enough. Just because their world is threatened doesn’t mean that they don’t also fight some internal struggles. Even the chosen one needs to deal with jealousy, a thirst for vengeance, insecurities and fears. And when those characters overcome their internal struggles, then we are often much more moved than when they are victorious over some dark mage.

It’s these weaknesses, these peeks into their inner soul that make us root for these characters. In the end this is what we identify with while at the same time we are entertained by the magic.


As the blog series is by German bloggers, there will be no more English posts other than my second entry about environmental agency in fantasy novels. If you liked this post, I might revisit this and other topics at a later time.


















My visit with the Ueberreuter Verlag

My visit with the Ueberreuter Verlag

As the winner of the uebersinnlich writing competition I was invited to visit my publishing house, the Ueberreuter Verlag, last Friday (February 10th, 2017). Not only was I showed around the premises, I also got a workshop with best seller author Corina Bomann.


A big player in the publishing industry playing it low?

If you think about a major publishing house, you would expect something … well, big, impersonal, maybe even mass production. Our welcoming at the Ueberreuter Verlag was nothing like that. It was like being introduced into a big family where everyone is happy to meet you. Maybe 15-20 people work at the publishing house which is a lot less than I expected. On the other side, the publisher’s archive is so big, each office needs to host a part of it.


Ueberreuter Verlag

The entry of the Ueberreuter Verlag with the archive and the Wall of Fame

On Friday, the first order of business was inviting the three winners – which would be Jess A. Loup, Rebecca Andel and me – for lunch. The restaurant beneath the publishing house offered creative dishes such as yeast dough with plums and pumpkins, but was very delicious. After that, we got a real tour through the offices.

We get to know the three editors that know our projects by heart and won’t stop with well-meaning compliments. Then we get to know the girls from production and see all the new editions. Too bad that our novels will be E-Book only. In the marketing room though, everyone’s just as excited as us and so are the girls from distribution. Only the publisher himself is missing. Maybe next time.


Neuerscheinungen bei Ueberreuter

The new releases of the Ueberreuter Verlag GmbH.

A workshop going off course

The second part of our win was the workshop with Corina Bomann. Corina has been an author for the Ueberreuter Verlag for a long time and knows way around publishers and agents. On this Friday she not only wants to give us tips about capitalising on our recent success, but also invite us to create worlds, characters and plots with her. While we’re at it, we spend so much time on excited chatter that we forget all about the tasks ahead of us.


At the workshop with Corina Bomann. (c) Ueberreuter Verlag GmbH

Instead we learn a lot about Corina’s path to success, blabber on about our own plans and dreams and get a notion about where to go from here. The doors of the book world are wide open. Now, it’s our turn to make it work. Nevertheless, Corina and the Ueberreuter Verlag have offered us their valuable time and help and we’re happy to have such great mentors at our side. Maybe a little too happy. Let’s see!


Goodies over goodies

But if you thought that that was everything, you (and I then) couldn’t be further off. At the end of the workshop we got ourselves some beautiful diplomas which we had to present to the camera of course. Then there was a bag so full off books and goodies that I almost failed carrying it safely home.


Ueberreuter Goodies

That’s how much I got from them – almost too much to fit on a picture.

But the absolute highlight was the Wall of Fame. On that wall all the authors and illustrators under the publisher have written their names and we were allowed to add ours. Not only that, Mobs got its place of honour as well and who knows, maybe Mobs will not only decorate the wall of Ueberreuter but some book pages in the near future.

Janna auf der Wall of Fame

Me, signing on the Wall of Fame. (c) Ueberreuter Verlag GmbH

I want to thank Kathleen Neumann and her team for the beautiful afternoon, all those gifts and tips, and hopes you’ve passed onto us. It was great visiting you and I’m looking forward to a repeat.

Gewinner des uebersinnlich Schreibwettbewerbs

Corina Bomann, me, Jess A. Loup and Rebecca Andel in front of the Wall of Fame. (c) Ueberreuter Verlag GmbH