Student Voice


July 22, 2024


Characterization in fantasy is important to get lost in the story

April 19, 2017

As a creative writing major, I have spent the past few semesters learning about how to properly craft a fictional story to gather readership.

One of the most significant portions of this is world building, an element crucial to both fantasy and science fiction as a drama. If you are to hold your piece in a land far away, you must set the rules as to what can and can’t happen in that land far away.

A writer may spend a majority of their time on this question, fleshing out many rules of the world and deciding on the definitions of their realm.

A good example is seen in the "Uglies" series by Scott Westerfeld. This series has fleshed out the rules of the universe. For example, you must undergo surgery to look "pretty" rather than relying on genetics. In the universe, nearly all questions are answered, there’s a definite time period and reference to the era that it is decided that the readers live in and a structure of government with several positions is designed.

However, Tally Youngblood, the protagonist, falls flat.

When you spend all of your time developing the rules of a world, you risk your main character falling flat. In "Divergent," we see a clear example of this. The main character is so laughably flat and unlikeable that I’ve heard many readers state the best part in the books is the moment when the main character’s voice ceases and narration is moved to another character.

Normally, the reader is able to power through these faults and gain interest in other characters that are more fully fleshed out, being that they are a part of the universe. However, there are moments that make you wonder if the main character really has a life or just exists.

Though often panned by critics, "Twilight" is a book series beloved by its fans. "Twilight" is also a fairly good example of doing it right. Though not properly portrayed in the movies, Bella Swan’s life is well fleshed out in the books. We see her friends other than the Cullens, her choice of isolation in "New Moon," the expectations of her daily life and we learn further of her childhood.

In the books, Bella has her own group of friends and spends time with them for an average amount of time before being engrossed in this world of vampires. We’re all well aware of the rules of the world of vampires, and those rules that may affect Bella are elaborated on. While "Breaking Dawn" may arguably be a bit of world breaking through the introduction of a hybrid vampire, we are still aware of Bella and how her daily life has evolved alongside a larger elaboration of the evolution of her character.

With characterization, it is easy to walk the line between fully developed and semi developed, or to rely too heavily on the world building, to excuse a majority of the lack of character.

However, it is with the lack of character you can see a lack of investment in relationships. When a character is not fully fleshed, a reader can sense it. Talking horses and giant fire dragons or not, no amount of fantasy can make up for a plain main character.