Please welcome Ginn Hale to the blog today taking about her wildly popular Lord of the White Hall sale and reboot!
Character Study by Ginn Hale
What makes a character compelling is a question authors ponder and debate often and fiercely. That’s because a compelling character—or the absence of one— can make all the difference between a book readers love too passionately to put down for food or sleep and one that they set aside after a few pages and never pick up again. Fascinating characters can inspire readers to care intensely about dense paragraphs of exposition. They metamorphose even the most bizarre premise into a captivating reality.
In short, they are the magic of fiction; mere words that become living, feeling people, whom readers can recognize—love or hate, but never ignore.
When I think of gripping characters, Nan King, from Sara Water’s book Tipping Velvet springs to mind right away. (As does Willie Smith, from Chris Hunt’s Street Lavender, who inspired Waters’ book.)
From the first pages Nan comes to life as a forthright girl who can’t quite be what her working-class Victorian upbringing would make of her. Instead she plunges into adventure and misadventure while struggling to find a place in a society with little regard for the desires of women and none at all for those of lesbians. What could become a grim tale indeed, is redeemed by Nan’s indomitable character, her growing acceptance of herself and her pride in the identity she forges for herself.
Like Willie Smith who came before her, Nan isn’t without her troubling qualities and her decisions aren’t always ones I agreed with. But that only makes her feel more real and nuanced. Her successes and failings are like those of a dear friend, whom I sometimes worry for but am always cheering on.
Of course sexuality and gender identity are not the only conflicts that can bring LGBTQ characters to life. Cecil Gershwin Palmer from “Welcome to Night Vale”—as well as the books Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coals of the Universe—readily proves that.
Cecil’s world is a disturbingly surreal small town where time doesn’t flow as expected, monsters are running for government positions and the only source of (somewhat) reliable information comes from in the form of Cecil’s radio show. Cecil does fall in love but he navigates his romance in much the same weird way as everyone else in Night Vale. It’s his journey from being an observer of the town’s invasion by a Smiling God to his active resistance that makes him far more fascinating than his sexual identity. He’s a commentator on events by nature and occupation so when he takes a stand it’s a thrilling, redefining moment.
That’s largely because we know Cecil so well and understand that this choice isn’t easy for him or lightly undertaken. Despite the chaotic, dreamscape of a setting Cecil is riveting and wonderful because at his core his values and conflicts are ones that we all can understand. Ones that many of us share: he wants to protect the lives and freedoms of his loved-ones, no matter how odd they may be.
But what exactly makes Nan and Cecil so fascinating, so alive?
For me it’s the conflict at their cores. They have internal struggles that are just as important as the plots of their stories. In fact their inner conflicts align with the plots and resonate throughout the books. Neither Cecil nor Nan is perfect or certain at the outset of their stories; they both earn their insights, their assurance and a reader’s love through their struggles and by facing their conflicts.
That said, I’m not sure that inner conflict alone is enough to make a character truly compelling. That’s because while personal angst can drive character development, alone it doesn’t amount to more than characters utterly focused on themselves. For me at least, that sort of narcissism and navel-gazing grows very old after a few pages.
Give me a complex—even very flawed— character who cares about someone or something other than themselves. It doesn’t have to be a lover or a cause, it can be a pet or a plot of dirt, but the character must care about something for it’s own sake. Because if they care then I can really believe that they possess the motivation and capacity to pull themselves together and leverage their personal conflict into powerful actions. For Nan, it’s her caring for her friends that leads her into the fight for social equality. For Cecil, it’s his love of the weird independence of his home that makes him defend Night Vale (and even his despised brother-in –law).
While writing the Lord of the White Hell books I had to think a great deal about balancing the characters’ inner conflicts with their investment in one another and the larger fantasy world that they inhabit.
Kiram, the protagonist of the books, is young, clever and indulged by his family. But he’s also a Haldiim, (a racial minority) with aspirations that motivate him to leave behind the safety and acceptance of the matriarchal society he’s grown up in and pursue fame in an academy populated by men whose beliefs and values are foreign to him. He becomes involved with Javier Tornesal, a nobleman, deemed “damned” by his fellow countrymen. As the two of them slowly grow to care for one another they both wage personal battles.
Javier relies on brash arrogance to mask his isolation but he knows that glib wit won’t save him from the “curse” that has destroyed so much of his family. Kiram struggles with the compromises that the Cadeleonian majority—including Javier— expect of him. Both of them face personal crises, which could easily occupy them completely. But because they care about each other they are drawn out of themselves. They can help one another and eventually empower each other to become heroes.
And of course as their author, I hope that somewhere amidst the magic, curses, romance and duels Kiram and Javier pull off that little piece of literary magic, rising up from the written page and coming to life in their readers’ hearts.
Title: Lord of the White Hell Book One
Author: Ginn Hale
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: High fantasy, school story, YA/NA
Original Release Date: August, 2010
Length: 362 pages
Reviews: Book 1 and Book 2
Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
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The Cadeleonian Series
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)