I love Guy Gavriel Kay. Many people — even those who read fantasy — don’t know his work. I also love Glenn Cook. They are both masters of fantasy, but they’re more obscure than the Robert Jordans and George RR Martins of the world.
Fantasy is an interesting genre. It’s one of the few where the antagonist can be, and often is, the embodiment of absolute evil. Meanwhile, the hero is often the mightiest of men and strongest of women. Oh sure, they have their flaws — but they typically overcome those obstacles by the end of the story.
I honestly can’t stand that.
What I love about Kay is that all characters in his books are deeply flawed. Furthermore, every character has redeeming values. The line of hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist, is blurry at best. Each person in the story is deep, rich and wholly identifiable. You might not agree with their motives, but you understand what motivates them.
The best example I can give for Kay’s work is a book titled Tigana. I remember the first time reading it… and half-way through this multi-POV, 3rd person narrative, I had no. fucking. clue. who I was cheering for. Every character’s motives were justified in their own mind. Each was driven by their personal history, needs, wants, desires, hatreds… and from each character’s point of view, their version of reality made perfect sense… even though they all contradicted! This master storyteller, Kay, managed to take a very real-world set of characters, plop them into a fantastic setting, pull all the puppet strings just so, leave the reader wondering until the very end — and then finish it out so perfectly that none of them got what they wanted, yet all got what they needed… and it was just…. perfect.
By contrast, Glenn Cook’s characters are all criminals. They’re greedy and selfish — yet deeply devoted to one another. They have love/hate relationships, inner-group conflict and pissing matches. The “hero” of the criminals winds up falling in love with the “villain” of the book… who then becomes a heroine in her own right… yet she’s still evil as fuck.
Seriously… THIS is what inspires me in characterization. These are the characters that force me to reach deep into the psyche of my own characters and pluck and pull until I fully expose them.
Characters need to be real. They have to be flawed. They can’t understand themselves fully… and they need to have their tender little underbellies exposed.
I love finding authors who are adept at creating these vulnerable and interesting characters… especially in genre fiction. And I attempt, through every story, to create those characters that inspire through their tangibility, realism and vulnerability.