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Author AJ Smith Discusses Writing Characters For The Long War Series

A fantasy army marching - Author AJ Smith Discusses Writing Characters For The Long War Series

The first three books in The Long War series are available now, and the fourth book is set to arrive next April.

This week, we have the opportunity to hear from author A.J. Smith, on the process involved in writing the characters for The Long War series. For those unfamiliar with the epic fantasy series, starting with The Black Guard, and followed by The Dark Blood and The Red Prince (and next April, The World Raven) here is a quick synopsis:

The city of Ro Canarn burns. With their father’s blood fresh upon the headsman’s sword, Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, the last scions of the house of Canarn, face fugitive exile or death. In the court of Ro Tiris, men fear to speak their minds. The Army of the Red marches upon the North. Strange accidents befall those who dare question the King’s new advisors. Those foolish enough to speak their names call them the Seven Sisters: witches of the fire god; each as beautiful and as dangerous as a flame. And, called from the long ages of deep time by war and sacrifice, the children of a dead god are waking with a pitiless cry. All that was dead will rise. All that now lives will fall.

AJ Smith – Friends and Enemies: Writing the Long War Series – Part Two

I love some of my characters and despise others, for, no matter how much I try, I am still bound by my own values and prejudices. I don’t like sadists and I hate bullies. Yes, I enjoy writing about the gleeful evil of Saara the Mistress of Pain, but she really is a bitch and I despise her. She’s a necessary evil – so she is my enemy, but I am not on her battlefield. Halla Summer Wolf is, and the Daughter of the Wolf is probably my favourite character. She’s a character I can fill with all the things I’d do if I happened to be a badass woman, fighting on the side of right. She’s my friend.

That’s the greatest distillation I can think of. The clearest example of how I approach characters. Bad people will do bad things and good people good things. In my idealistic head I like to think that the later has more weight, but I imagine that’s naivety.

Each character is given a back-story, placed in the world I created for them, and told to get on with it. My job is to write them as they would be – which means, far from all being clearly all bad – it is in the chaotic middle-ground where most find their homes. How would you react if everything you had was taken from you, but you knew how to use a sword? Some would go mad, others would be strengthened. Some would look for friends who also had swords, and some would just die swinging, throwing away their lives in anguish.

I made things apocalyptically difficult for myself by creating dozens of characters; for each of them I need to ask hard questions and hope I get the answers right. My own feeling towards them places them as enemies or friends, so it’s like playing chess against myself, putting equal effort and skill into both black and white. Or maybe I just have a masochistic dark side and am in denial.

In reality, it’s the grey areas that I enjoy writing the most. Halla wouldn’t be my favourite character if she was a paragon of shining righteousness. She’s a hard woman, violent and prideful, with a barely contained rage that you’d be unlucky to see. And even Saara, festering away in an evil world of her own making, is vulnerable and soft when challenged. Both of them are imperfect – a friend and an enemy who react to the world as best they can.

If you read my previous blog, you’d know that the world ultimately has control. It’s the veto, the trump card, the one thing I won’t compromise. If the rules of the world mean that my enemy wins, so be it… but I’ll be snarling as I write every word.

When I do wield control, it’s invariably because I’ve become attached to a character. I feel that the world won’t mind when a minor character, such as Tyr Nanon, gets elevated to a starring role, and his sacrificial death is taken by someone else. [For anyone interested in narrative minutia, Nanon’s actions were originally intended for Tyr Dyus the Daylight Sky, who I found another role for.]

Now I think of it, Nanon’s not the only one. I kept people alive because I liked them and killed people because I hated them. As a writer that’s a strange thing to admit, but sometimes that’s the only way that a bully can get their comeuppance, or a good guy can be shown that the world doesn’t always agree with you.


(For more from Smith on writing the series, check out his Facebook page.)

Interested in a Free Copy of The Black Guard?

Book Cover for the Black Guard, the first book in The Long War series by AJ Smith

Win a Free Copy of The Black Guard

If this all sounds interesting to you, and you’d like to give Smith’s world a try, we’re working with the publisher to give away two copies for free. So, how can you get a copy? Simple. Just comment on the article below, and let us know why you’re interested in reading the series. In one weeks time, we’ll randomly select two commenters, and have the publisher send them a free copy. Now, this next part is important. We’ll be providing the email you use to comment to the publisher, so they can get in contact with you to get the necessary mailing information for sending you the book. So make sure it’s a valid email. And that it’s. Simple, right?

Picking Up Copies of The Long War Series

If you don’t win a free book but are still interested in reading the series, you can pick up copies of The Black GuardThe Dark Blood, and The Red Prince over on Amazon. You can also pre-order The World Raven, Smith’s return to the land of Ro, due out in April next year.

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