Guest Post by Author C.L. Wilson on Putting the Character in Characters + Giveaway

Today, I’d like to welcome C.L. Wilson, who recent published The Winter King (reviewed here).

Putting the Character in Characters
by C.L. Wilson

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One of the best things about writing fantasy romance (besides the worldbuilding, which I adore) is the freedom you have to create wildly unique and interesting characters to populate your world. In fiction—especially fantasy fiction—larger-than-life qualities often make for the most interesting characters.

Unbound by conventional mores, laws, or even realities, fantasy characters can be literally larger than life: immortal, magical, world-endingly dangerous, you name it. It’s part of what makes reading such a thrill ride. You can enjoy the danger from the safety of your armchair, and you can explore all manner of provocative “what if” scenarios without having your suspension of disbelief destroyed.

For example, in one of my absolute favorite recent reads, Heart of Obsidian, phenomenally talented Nalini Singh created a character (Kaleb Krychek) who is a telekinetic so powerful, he can literally rip the world apart, and so tortured he will use that power without remorse if anything happens to the one and only person he cares about. He is a self-admitted sociopath, devoid of empathy and teetering on the brink of insanity, who has killed people before, driven others insane, and will “line the street with bodies” to protect his one love. In real life, someone like Kaleb would send most women running the other way, screaming in terror (and rightfully so), yet through the course of the novel, Nalini not only helps her readers and heroine understand him, she makes us fall irrevocably and eternally in love with him. Yes, unashamedly, I ♥ Kaleb Krychek.

GMC - Goals, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra DixonSo how do you go about building characters that will grip a reader’s attention and rouse their emotions? For me, it all starts with the basic building blocks of fiction: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Or, more simply put, what does this character want, why does s/he want it, and why can’t s/he have it? (There’s a fabulous book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon called, wait for it, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, which I highly recommend to all writers.) Understanding both the external (material/worldly) and internal (emotional) GMC of my characters is the point from which I begin developing every character I write (walk-ons excluded, of course). Because in order to answer the question of GMC, you have to understand where you character comes from, what they value most, what their greatest strengths and weaknesses are, and what is the source of their pain (ie, you need to understand and build their backstory).

We are all creatures of both nurture and nature. We are born with certain gifts, physical qualities, aptitudes, temperaments, etc. But on an emotional level, who we become is heavily influenced by nurture: the environment we are raised in, the friendships we form, the culture we grow up in, the battles we win and lose, etc. It’s that emotional past (that baggage) as well as natural abilities that combine to make interesting, complex people in real life and fascinating, truly compelling characters on the pages of a book.

I always, when fleshing out a character, look for sources of conflict that can arise from their abilities, their past experiences, their current desires and fears.

Some of the questions I ask when fleshing out a character:

    • What is the person’s greatest strength? What does that person do best, or what is the strongest element of their character. Often, that greatest strength is also the characters greatest weakness. For instance, a fantasy character’s greatest strength might be empathy—the ability to sense the feelings of others, so you can tell when someone is lying, afraid, nervous, etc. But then the character’s greatest weakness might be that they are physically defenseless, because any pain they deal another doubles back on them. Or the person with ESP who can read thoughts—a great strength—who has no friends because no one wants their real thoughts laid bare to another person.
    • What is the person’s greatest weakness? (for ideas, see above) Yes, every character must have a weakness, and it must be a good one. Even Superman has his Kryptonite. An invincible character does not make for fascinating reading. Now, nearly invincible on the other hand…that can be lots of fun to read and write about.
    • What does this person love/value most? What will s/he do to get it/protect it/keep it? (This often speaks to either Goal and/or Motivation in a story)
    • What is this person’s greatest source of pain? What is their Wound (capitalization intended)? The deep emotional scar or longing. The pain this person doesn’t want to face again (and, of course, the story will force the character to face that pain). This is the core emotional Conflict (the C of GMC) of the story, and it’s closely linked to the transformation the character will need to undergo, the growth s/he’ll need to make in order to triumph in the end.

Finally, in fiction, more can often be better. More power, more angst, more pain, more at stake, more, more, more. Genre fiction readers don’t read for blah, everyday characters (unless said character is caught up in some extremely NOT-everyday events, and has to rise to the occasion to deal with it). We all get up, put our clothes on, go to work, raise our families, rinse, repeat. We might have fights at the office, get stuck in traffic, glare at the rude person who jumps in front of little old ladies in the grocery store line, but lives like that don’t make for page-turning fiction.

I’m not saying your character should be the most gifted, the most beautiful, the most everything. I would hate that character, and such a character would probably destroy my suspension of disbelief in a story. But it is the unique, fantastic, even extreme qualities of fictional characters and their situations that grab our interest on the page.

And it is those larger-than-life qualities that make for compelling characters and page-turning novels.

CL WilsonAbout C. L. Wilson
Praised for exceptional worldbuilding and lyric prose, C.L. Wilson’s unique blend of action, romance, and richly-imagined fantasy have endeared her books romance and fantasy readers alike. Her critically acclaimed novels have regularly appeared on bestseller lists including the USA Today, the New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly.

When not torturing her characters mercilessly, C.L. enjoys reading, questing through the wilds of the latest Elder Scrolls game and dreaming of a world where Bluebell’s Nutty Chocolate ice cream is a fat burning food.

Her newest novel, The Winter King, is available anywhere books are sold. She can be found online at


C.L. is giving away copy of The Winter King, complete with a gorgeous white rose snow globe pendant reminiscent of the book!

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Review: The Winter King by C.L. Wilson

winter king by cl wilsonFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: fantasy romance
Length: 613 pages
Publisher: Avon
Date Released: July 29, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea’s king by taking one of the man’s beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter’s battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother’s death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father’s palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig’s icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin’s wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter’s passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

My Review:

My friends Has and Lou over at The Book Pushers called The Winter King an “old skool” fantasy romance. After having devoured The Winter King, all 600 pages of it, in less than two days, I’d pretty much agree.

The Winter King reminds me a lot of the big, meaty fantasy romance sagas like Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series. There’s an epic sweep of magic and hot juicy romance (sometimes a bit literally) set in a world of endlessly warring kingdoms and opposing gods.

It makes for a sprawling story so big you can absolutely wallow in it. In a completely good way. When done well, this kind of storytelling makes for a great big “YUM”, and The Winter King is definitely done well.

We start out with what appears to be one misguided young man’s quest for the legendary sword of his ancestors–up until he makes off with the neighbor king’s fiance and kills the king’s brother as part of his escape plan. Then he disappears from sight for three years, while the aforementioned king sets out to reduce the young man’s rival kingdom to splinters.

And that’s where the real story begins.

Falcon was the Prince of Summerlea, and he stole the King of Winter Craig’s fiancee and a magical artifact that is supposed to point out the location of legendary King Roland’s sword, Blazing.

Wynter, the King of Winter Craig embraces the terrible side of his country’s heritage in order to lay waste to the kingdom that sent Falcon. Three years later he’s conquered the last stronghold, and is prepared to claim his prize.

Wynter intends to injure the King of Summerlea by demanding one of his three beloved daughters as his wife. Instead, Verdan Summerlea gets the upper hand by foisting his definitely unbeloved fourth daughter on the enemy he hates.

He hates his daughter Khamsin enough to beat her very nearly to death in order to get her to participate in this charade. It’s not until half-way through the beating that Kham figures out that the enemy king will give her a better chance of survival than staying at home.

None of the Summerlanders have any clue that giving Kham to Wynter is also his best chance at survival. But there is so much distrust between the two countries, and so much deception involved in all of Kham and Wynter’s initial encounters, that it takes a lot of time, and quite a bit of other people’s blood, before they manage half a rapprochement.

There are too many people invested in keeping them apart. Some with honest mistrust, and many full of deliberate treachery.

Even though they each have nowhere else to turn, it takes despicable betrayal from both sides of their conflict to finally push them toward each other. And it might be too late, not just for Kham and Wynter, but for the entire world.

Escape Rating A-: I have some quibbles, but after absolutely gobbling the story up in a relatively short time, I have to say I had a ball reading it.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to shake some sense into both the hero and heroine. Frequently.

The tension in the romance was based on several huge misunderstandammits, a trope I generally hate. However, Kham and Wynter were not stuck in a fake conflict that could have been resolved with a simple conversation. They frequently misunderstood each other because their relationship begins as a forced marriage of enemies. Their countries have been at war for three years. Their people don’t trust each other for very good reasons. It’s difficult to clear the air when you aren’t ready to trust the other person.

That being said, Kham is very young and has lived a life of complete isolation. She’s never had to behave in the court setting she should have, and she hasn’t learned the lessons one usually does about guarding your presentation and the way that people behave when they are being spiteful or simply getting along. She’s observed her father’s court in secret, but was never allowed to participate, and for reasons that weren’t her fault. Figuring out how to behave in the real world, and becoming Queen of people who hate and distrust her, was being thrown into the deep end of the pool. She learns, but she flails about a lot and suffers from some self-indulgent self-pity at points early on. She gets better.

Wynter has more life experience, and more real-life experience than Kham does. Admittedly, a lot of it has been horrible, and he’s been forced to take on responsibility early and fast. His life has not been easy. His last fiance betrayed him, so trusting the daughter of his enemy is beyond difficult. At the same time, he seems to not understand that his treatment of Kham will be mirrored by his entire court. Even though he doesn’t trust her, he seems to have totally missed the point that his court needs to respect her as Queen and the potential mother of the next ruler.

One side note, I wish the King of Winter Craig had not been named “Wynter”. It felt just a shade over the top. Totally my 2 cents and YMMV.

The romance between Kham and Wynter is almost too hot to read on a summer night, but in a way that makes sense in their relationship. This is a dynastic marriage, there has to be a child. So the romance is a terrific sex-into-love story. The sparks they strike off of each other in their clash of wills translates directly into steam.

Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that the ending throws a lot of tropes onto their heads. And it’s marvelous.

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