DISCLAIMER: Many writers take inspiration from already existing characters or real people like actors or celebrities. It's an easy way to reference and check yourself as you write them. That doesn't mean that the writer copied someone else, or hasn't put thought and effort into making their own characters with good story arcs. Trust me, paying homage to the following characters in no way means I haven't created my own world, with my own characters, and their own struggles and motivations. Despite the general trend toward inspiration from cartoon and MG characters, The Witcke in the Ruins is a YA fantasy with dark elements.
After accidentally stumbling into a world that uses spellbinds instead of technology, Astrid is shocked to find her long-lost mother part of a stalwart group working to protect her world from Black Annis, an black witcke with world-dominating designs.
Unfortunately, Astrid's arrival in the forest village of Grundwell alerts the black witcke to the presence of the last piece of her plot--the silver necklace--and she attacks. Astrid narrowly escapes with the help of an awkward kitchen boy named Chale, but not before her mother is captured by the enemy.
Armed only with a temperamental spellbound sword and Astrid's unforeseen aptitude for magic, the two teenagers vow to rescue her mother. Pointed along a path by Chale's estranged grandmother, they trek across a rocky expanse of hazardous lowland inhabited by the ghoulish wights. Pursued by thirteen ancient Druids in Black Annis's thrall, they desperately seek for the source of the black witcke's power: a totem that--if destroyed--will give them a fighting chance. But time is running out for Astrid's mother as Astrid and Chale discover their quest may be exactly what Black Annis intended.
As the main character, Astrid was the most difficult to pin down from the get-go. I had a vague idea of who she would be, but it wasn't until the second rewrite of the book that I finally began to draw some defined personality and voice from her. Her inspiration came from many different characters including Elonwy from the Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles, Mariel from Brain Jacques's Redwall books, and a small bit of Hermione from the Harry Potter books. I mixed them all together and added a little attitude and a lot of self-awareness from the girls I met while involved with the Hardcore music scene.
I always knew who Chale would be: a mix between my brother Travis and myself, especially when it came to interacting with girls. (We were both unbelievably painful nerds.) Chale needed to be awkward, stutter, look at his feet, all that good stuff. He can't read, can't write, and sees himself as only a mere kitchen boy. But I also wanted him to have courage that could be coaxed from him as the book unfolded. A few rewrites in, his stuttering lessened, and his courage came sooner. I also added in a little longing for adventure, a desire to make a difference, along with a need to help protect Astrid (who almost doesn't need protecting). I took inspiration from Wart (Arthur) in Disney's The Sword in the Stone and Taran from Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles.
I'm going to admit something: Spigworth is a blatant love-note to all the talking owls that have appeared in cartoons and books through my childhood. Archimedes from Disney's The Sword in the Stone, Brian Jacques's half dozen owl characters, Owl from Winnie the Pooh, and many more. I just love the idea of stuffy British owls in books! Can't help myself. The spirit of the character also took some bits of Fflewddur Fflam from Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles. Spigworth fills the role of guardian over Astrid and Chale, keeping them in line and adding a little worldly knowledge to temper their decisions.
I've owned rats as pets, and love to look at them at pet stores. I think they're cute and funny; sue me. But a rat (or rats as was originally intended until I combined two characters--RIP Git) was also the perfect character to pair with Spigworth; polar opposites in form, the food chain, and personality. While Spigworth thinks highly of himself and puts great emphasis on duty, Kenneth is mostly concerned with turning a profit at the expense of his reputation, legally or otherwise. As the book progressed, Kenneth became more complex, moving into the role of a cynical pessimist who didn't really want to be helping Chale and Astrid. His story arc, ending with a pivotal role in the climax, is a little more defined than I had initially intended, which I'm quite satisfied with. Some of his inspiration came once again from Brian Jacques's many sea-rat scallywags, but mostly Templeton from Charlotte's Web.
I have a thing for witches. And I mean a particular kind of witch: old, robed, filthy, seriously nasty--nothing funny about them. (Possibly a little female Emperor Palpatine in there.) She's the bad guy and does some not-cool stuff. Some of you might recognize the name of Black Annis (or Agnes) as that of an old rural legend from the UK. With Black Annis, I play homage to that legend as it fascinates me: an old crone living in the woods/moors, sometimes in a house, sometimes in a hill, always with an oak tree growing by the door and tanned human hides in the branches or tied around her belt. Super creepy, and oh-so-fun. I actually had the character developed before I researched the legend, and she fit pretty well with a few tweaks and name change.
BLOSSOM THE WITCKE
There's an old Still Remains song titled "Blossom: The Witch." I don't know if I've ever had three small words spark such an explosion of imagination as these. I'm not sure what the song is about beyond a few lyrics ("Beware of her eyes, beware of Blossom"), but that didn't matter. I knew I had to write a book that had a witch named Blossom in it. She's Chale's creepy estranged grandmother, a small bit part that I hope is a lot of fun to read.
Chale's grandfather and innkeeper of the Wandering Wanderer. Going back to the boy with a sword archetype, there's gotta be the wise old man in there, just like Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Dalben in The Prydain Chronicles, or the inimitable Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. A little Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. I did pull back on Donette however, limiting his role in the story, making him more of an armchair magician that doesn't affect the plot much. He's not a bad guy, but he's done wrong with Chale, never teaching him to read, relegating him to the kitchen of the inn, etc. I do have exciting plans for him in possible sequels. :)
As a smaller character, I still found Mother Ambridge fun to write. She's old, cranky, and quietly powerful. I took inspiration (strangely enough) from Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone, and Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey.
As Astrid's mother, Abbey is important to the story, but strangely didn't need a lot of characterization. I eventually wrote her as the sort of blank-faced character that you'd see in the background of an older Disney cartoon or something. She makes a bad decision before the book begins and comes to regret it in the course of the story, so there is a small arc there and character development.
I should add, the idea for this post came from Vicki Weavil, a good friend who posted a similar thing to her own blog yesterday. Go check it out, as she just signed with an agent and you may be seeing her novel in print soon!
All images are borrowed from the internet for entertainment purposes only. I do not claim the rights to them, and they do not represent the characters I have detailed--only provide a visual hint.