Official site for the high/dark fantasy books of authors Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, including the Noble Dead Saga (a.k.a. The Noble Dead series), the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga.

Q&A: Real People, Fake World [Character / World-Building]

It isn’t often we get personal queries, and we’re rather private, so few such questions get answered. But some personal questions are aimed at our work life, so we try to answer those. Just like everyone, we want to do at least a little something in our work life that has some personal meaning. So to get personal, or just “person” oriented...

Q: Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that's true for you, in what way is the story in a book or the saga as a whole personal to you?

Barb: We love to do things together, and have been doing so for nearly three decades. We especially love to make up stories together. So the books of the saga (or any others I write) represent something personal for me. In collaboration, creativity isn’t just added together; it’s multiplied. I love to write a scene and then see how J.C. revises or changes what I’ve started. And then in revision, rewrites, and editing, it goes ‘round and ‘round again.

J.C.: Also, we don’t believe in absolute states of Good and Evil. The most interesting characters, just like all real people, are the ones caught in-between. Ours have flaws and virtues — one sometimes becoming the other — as well their quirks. Even our so-called "villains" can draw empathy from readers, because their actions and perspectives are often justified, at least to themselves. Some of our “heroes” are disliked for being ruthless and cold in serving what they think is right. Exploring human nature is personal for me. It pulls “character” beyond stereotype’s clichés, hopefully ditches archetype’s bondage, and it lives!

Barb: A fully-developed character has to be as much like a real person as possible, or there's no point to it being more than a stock fixture. That's what we care about, what’s personal for us. We don’t want to be stock writers, if we can help it. So even when we do have a stock character that’s needed, we breath as much individuality into it as we can get away with.

J.C.: Otherwise there's no point to doing more than fancy magic, special effects, and big battles. We try to give our readers real people to read about, even in a made-up world. Hopefully we succeed most of the time. That’s our personal investment in our work.

Q: In writing in a made up world, does this hinder making characters into real people? How do you create real people who live in a world of pure fantasy?

J.C: We try to stick to what is reasonable and has verisimilitude. For example, we knew people of different continents — even nations and little pocket lands — wouldn’t speak the same language or dialect. There’s no such thing as a “common tongue,” and sometimes a single word misspoken or mistranslated can have a small to large, immediate or long term effect. That effect is always consequential to characters... the people involved.  We like to face the realistic challenges for their spice and use these to enhance setting, plot, and especially character. People have to face things like this in their own lives, though not necessarily on such a scale.

Barb: The readers’ view into our world is filtered by limited character viewpoint, so we spend time considering what in the character’s world would affect them, from political and ideological influences, to which local business or natural resources are present or not. Even if real world people don’t always consider this consciously, taking for granted what an outsider might find daunting, they still do it. You have to get through your day, though you may not live a life quite as perilous and desperate as our characters do. They same for them, and it sometimes needs more than a passing acknowledgement.

J.C.: And when it comes to stuff that doesn’t exist in the real world, it has to be integrated and not just tossed off as stock and trade for the fantasy genre. Books like that are first one’s to lose my attention. From another perspective, doing so just makes one book too much the same as any other. Magic, of course, exists in almost all fantasy works. Ours is structured, difficult, time-consuming, as such pursuits logically would be. It is also thereby rare. Those characters... those people who deal with such in the saga, can end up with some serious complications. 

Barb: There is always one of two things we use in selecting elements for our world: reason or rationale.  There is always one and only one way it is integrated into that world — through the characters. We may introduce something broad, but it’s in the detail of how a character, or several, have to deal with this stuff that matters. Through that, they live, and so does the world they live in.

J.C.: We avoid toss-ins for convenience or as a way to get over an impasse in plotting a current story. And the solution always revolves around character, around people, otherwise the plot they are embroiled in doesn’t have any meaning. The reader has no one to empathize with, to feel the sorrow and elation, frustration and triumph of the striving. Or to even just get mad at a character whose being stupid and oblivious... just like real people.