Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, October 13, 2018

More on Characters & Point of View

My son-in-law is currently in London, with a crew & lots of equipment, doing Tech for a convention. He flew out of Orlando Wednesday night - this photo and his comments taken from Facebook:

"So, having an oatmeal stout beer at an English pub, eating a greasy smoky bacon cheeseburger, while listening to Mexican music, with a Halal restaurant right next door.
Quite the gastro-cultural experience!" 

My daughter will join him on the 13th, to do a bit of exploring on her own - undoubtedly including return visits to Harrods and Camden Market (to which she is drawn like a magnet). And when Mike is free, they'll be celebrating a big 20th wedding anniversary.

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NEXT MOSAIC MOMENTS - November 3, 2018 

Please check Index of 6/16/18 for Writing/Editing posts in the Archives
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 As my regular readers know, I often base my blogs on what I happen to be reading at the time, whether for my editing business or for pleasure. This week I went back to the beginning of a favorite series and started reading straight through, one book after the other, finding it fascinating to revisit the birth of characters who have become old friends after something like eight books. The series: Lindsay Buroker's The Emperor's Edge. 

Looking at the series from the viewpoint of Mosaic Moments, I realized there's a lot to be learned from Ms Buroker's approach to these books. Also, that her approach to her characters, main and secondary, tends to differ from that of many other series authors. As an aside, I want to add that Ms Buroker's strong point is writing action—totally incredible, over-the-top action, so much so that she goes through something like seven books with the heroine and hero exchanging no more than one kiss and an occasional hug. Yes, some of the secondary characters talk about sex, but that's it. Ms Buroker also does a great job creating her fantasy version of a steampunk world far, far away. And this is the series that stole its hero/anti-hero and "alien" touches from a previous book. Never think you can't steal a good idea or two from yourself and run with it!

Brief background on The Emperor's Edge:

A female "enforcer" (the police of this fantasy setting) is forced to go rogue in an effort to protect her country's young emperor. She puts together an oddball team of five men: a disgraced nobleman, an alcoholic professor, a scarred veteran of the fighting pits (who can't talk), a teenager who longs to practice magic, and the country's most feared assassin, raised for the role from birth by his own government. They call themselves "The Emperor's Edge" and set out help the emperor and get themselves back on the right side of the law.

So why is The Emperor's Edge series different?

As previously mentioned, in most long-running series there is a single main character or a Hero/Heroine situation. Also as previously mentioned, it's important not to let your Secondary Characters overshadow your Main Characters. Therefore you need to be very careful about who is allowed a Point of View. In The Emperor's Edge, Ms Buroker gives each member of the team a Point of View, often a lengthy one. Yes, Amaranthe, the heroine, is primary, definitely the boss of the book as well as of the team, but each of the team's men gets to reveal his background, thoughts, fears, and hopes for the future. Each one is a person in his own right. EXCEPT the Anti-hero, the assassin, Sicarius. Why? Because he has to remain the mystery man. Readers are allowed only to know what Amaranthe and other team members think or know about him. He remains forever aloof. Cold, hard, unrelenting . . .

And yet, here is another point of interest about Ms Buroker's characterizations: she allows her characters to grow and change. In so many series the characters remain "stock." The hero, the heroine, their buddies, the people they work with, are the same, book in and book out. Yes, readers like to know what they're getting, but is it really likely that these characters go for years without any changes in their lives or in their attitudes?

As an exercise, let's look at each of the characters in the team called The Emperor's Edge.

Amaranthe - she begins as a "by the book" corporal, just doing her job patrolling her small part of the city. Then shortly into the first book she is propelled into an entirely new existence, struggling with finding herself on the wrong side of the law and all because the young emperor smiled at her. But she copes, she finds allies—interestingly, all men in a male-dominant society who recognize that she's the one with the ideas, a natural-born leader, and agree to follow her (though each with his own unique reason for doing so).

Maldynado - an outcast from his high-born family, Maldynado changes the least during the series. He is the clown, the complainer, the devil-may-care type. But although he does his best to play the fool, he is intelligent and fights hard.

"Books" - a has-been, alcoholic professor, Books is truly down and out when Amaranthe recruits him for his ability at research. He'll never be a true fighter, but over the course of the the team's demanding training and the many challenges he has to conquer, "Books" becomes an indispensable member of the team.

Akstyr - an 18-year-old gang member with no morals, no past kindness in his life, he realizes he has the gift for magic and will do anything to learn more about it in a country where magic is forbidden. Akstyr also has a great deal to learn about loyalty and responsibility, concepts foreign to him. He makes mistakes, to the point of betrayal, is amazed when the team forgives him. Akstyr takes longer than Books to settle into a dependable member of the team.

Basilard - a man from a pacifist country, enslaved and forced to fight to the death in an arena. He is badly scarred, his throat damaged so badly he can't talk. He can't go home, can't see the daughter left behind, because he is forever tainted by using violence (no excuses accepted). An outcast, and ugly, he is a strong member of the team - except he has to struggle with unremitting hate for another, even more vital, team member, the assassin, Sicarius.

Sicarius - Raised from birth to be what he is - unbeatable, determined, deadly, unemotional, hard as nails - he is one of those special characters who capture the imagination. When he agrees to follow Amaranthe, he becomes the person who has to change the most. She wants to preserve not only the Emperor's life but the lives of absolutely everybody, even the villains. We are only allowed to see what Sicarius thinks about this from the outside - from the observations and fears of the other members of the team. But there is no doubt he has the greatest adjustments to make. (Not always successfully. Like the scorpion in the tale of the Scorpion and the Frog, he bites because he is, after all, a scorpion.) Just when we are led to believe he's got the message, he reverts to type.  But there's no doubt that without him Amaranthe would have been dead several times over. We are finally allowed inside Sicarius's head in Book 6, when he has changed enough that a few "human" traits are beginning to kick in. An omission of POV that is, in itself, a powerful bit of characterization.

Returning to Amaranthe - her goal is to save the Emperor and have her team returned to the list of "good guys." To do that, she breaks just about every law, tradition, and commandment imaginable. The adjustments she has to make to her staunch principles are likely the greatest changes of all. Sicarius only has to learn not to kill everyone who so much as looks at him askance, while Amaranthe schemes and plans an endless series of adventures far outside the law. And, in the process, turns Sicarius into a Superhero.

Dialogue note:

In any book, series or not, it is important to give your characters their own style of dialogue. A reader should be able to look at a bit of dialogue (beyond a word or two) and recognize which character is speaking.  The Emperor's Edge is excellent example.

Amaranthe is always the boss (except sometimes privately with Sicarius). She gives the orders. She also tends to be impetuous at times, so determined to succeed that she takes really serious risks.

Maldynado is always the wise guy, full of quips, complaints, talk of sex; full of himself, etc.

"Books" falls into the pedantic at the drop of a hat. On and on until someone shuts him up.

Akstyr is always the street kid, the hopeful worker of magic, never quite one with the team. Sullen, hanging back from work, not as well spoken as the others.

Basilard "signs," his words in italics. Except on a few occasions when he resorts to pen and paper.

Sicarius speaks only when necessary, and then as few words as possible. Always the silent but deadly partner, doing what has to be done, including being a harsh taskmaster for the team's training. If he says a hundred words in each book, that's a lot for him. He participates through action, not communication. Social interaction is unheard of; even Amaranthe, who loves him, suffers from never knowing what he's thinking. Until Book 6, that is, when we are allowed into his head at last and see his struggle to understand the most basic human emotions, a struggle made so much stronger because the revelation has taken so long.

1. As emphasized previously, variety (distinctly different personalties) are an important part of creating Secondary Characters.
2.  Some series are more "team efforts" than others. In these cases, allowing Secondary Characters lengthy Points of View is part of the style. 
Grace note:  #2 above does not apply to books that are primarily Romance!)
3.  Each character should have his/her unique dialogue style. (Which does NOT mean you can leave off the dialogue "tag"!)
4.  It is possible to have a "hero" (or other important character) without a Point of View. (As in Gothic novels written in First Person.)
5.  Although Plots are important, it is CHARACTERS who make a book. And it's more interesting if they change and grow over the course of a series. If their "good guy" attitude occasionally wavers; if they have doubts and fears, endure considerable suffering before their final triumph (which in The Emperor's Edge series takes eight books). 

Grace note:  Even if your books do not go to the extremes of Ms Buroker's series, the concept of change still applies. Keep your characters interesting; don't let them go static. Keep readers wondering what they'll do next, not going "Ho-hum, same old, same old—able to leap tall buildings at a single bound." (If you saw Black Panther, you will recall that he loses his super powers after drinking a ceremonial potion. Just as Superman is adversely affected by Kryptonite.) These "gimmicks" are long-established ways to make characters vulnerable, for where's the suspense if the Good Guy/Gal wins every challenge?

WARNING: Read # 2, plus Note again. Only in series that are "team efforts" can you allow lengthy POVs from Secondary Characters. In most books and most series, it's vitally important to keep in mind the rule I've stated so many times before: Never let your Secondary Characters overshadow your Main Characters. Even in The Emperor's Edge series we are never allowed to lose sight of the fact that Amaranthe and Sicarius are the Main Characters, although in one of the books Maldynado's POV occupies fifty to sixty percent of the pages and Sicarius disappears for a great portion of the book. This is what makes a good writer—someone who can allow multiple Points of View but never stray from the overall point of the series. 
I should add, that Ms Buroker waited until Book Five to give a Secondary Character an extended Point of View. It's not something you can do until your Main Characters are very sell established in readers' minds.  

So . . . HANDLE POINTS OF VIEW WITH CARE. Watch what you're doing like the proverbial hawk. Are Points of View from Secondary Characters suitable to the genre you're writing? Are they making your book better—giving it more depth, more color, perhaps more action? Or are they drawing readers' attention too far from your Main Character(s), turning the focus in too many directions, bringing momentum to a skidding halt?

That's the whole point of these articles on Secondary Characters: How to use them to enhance your book, not detract. I hope I've helped.

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 Another example of a series using multiple POVs, my Sci Fi Saga, Blue Moon Rising, particularly the final book, Royal Rebellion.

 For a link to Royal Rebellion on Amazon, click here.

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For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

For a link to Blair's Facebook Author page, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's Editing Service, Best Foot Forward,


Thanks for stopping by,


  1. I enjoy taking the time to read all of a series, or even all of an author's books if he's not too prolific, one after another. Often I'll do it in the approximate order the books were written. I enjoy the overall picture I get with that kind of binge-reading, and the insights into how an author has developed over time, and discovering little quirks that I'd missed entirely when I read the books spread out over many years -- such as the series in which the main character's cat changes sex several times as the books progress.

    But have you experienced the negative side? A series that takes several years to create, in which the readers will experience gaps of months or even years from one book to another, must put into subsequent books a lot of rehashing of previous events. Even when it's cleverly done, if I'm reading them one right after the other, it doesn't take long to get heartily sick of the repetition.

  2. Linda, one of the things I keep preaching about on Mosaic Moments is telling authors they must never assume readers will remember what happened in previous books in a series. Most authors work this info in so well, it's merely a memory jog and not annoying. Although I know one author who puts the same "past history" in every book - I just skip those paragraphs/pages. Recaps are vital to the many of us without total recall.