Character Building – Craven

In this post I want to talk about Craven.

Craven is one of the characters in The Grandfather’s Blades. My current WIP. The inspiration for this book came from a series of Dungeons and Dragons role playing sessions. They were first played way back in 1992 and ended in about 1997. I’m not 100% clear on the dates but suffice it to say it was a long time ago.

For those of you who have never played D&D before I won’t attempt to explain it in any great detail here. If you have you can skip the next paragraph.

Suffice to say the idea is that each player creates a character (called a Player Character or PC). These are played in an imaginary world, which is controlled by the Dungeon Master (aka DM). In that world one player’s PC will interact with other player’s PCs as well as NPCs (Non-Player Characters) also controlled by the DM. In the age before excellent computer graphics and amazing gaming artificial intelligences the human imagination was king.

Craven was one of the player characters. In fact he was my character, which is why I am tackling him first. 🙂

All of this is point adjacent, I share it merely so you understand the genesis of the characters, and some events, in The Grandfather’s Blades. It also serves to let you know just how long the character of Craven has been living in my head.

Strong characters are key to a good story.

If you have a character that behaves in a way that makes sense given their world view, knowledge, and experience, then I believe you are a long way toward having a story that someone else would want to read. I have been playing D&D for a long time (I know its not considered cool, it may be a dirty little secret, but there you go I said it) so I have spent a long time trying to think like someone else and not go insane. The same principles apply in writing as they do in tabletop RPGs. The idea is to develop a character that talks and acts in a manner consistent with their background.

Now. To the subject at hand. Craven.

Let me describe what Craven is before I describe who he is.

Craven is male, human, and 20 years old. He is tall, athletic, and attractive (think Craig Horner as Richard Cypher in Legend of the Seeker). He has been trained as an assassin and is a specialist swordsman.

In those few words we have a mental image of what Craven looks like, and some idea of what his skills are. But we really have absolutely no idea who he is. What are his goals? What motivates him? What are his values? These stem from his background.

To answer that we need to dig a little deeper. I personally like to delve into how he got to be what he is. There are a few things in his description that stand out as being unusual to me:

1. He is an assassin
2. He is a specialist swordsman
3. His name is Craven

An assassin is not a very common profession for anyone to fall into so for me the question was this: How did he get to become one? That might be too tricky a question to handle first up so I’ll save that for later.

As a specialist swordsman, what weapon did he prefer?

That question was far less complex. I could just pick one. So, I decided that he would wield a rapier as his preferred weapon (I think I might have just watched the Princess Bride when I first created Craven). That leads to the question of who usually wields a rapier? Another easy question. Rapiers were used by wealthy landowners, aristocrats and nobles.

Ok, so right now I have Craven as the son of a nobleman.

Next obvious question. Why would any noble name his son Craven? The answer to that is obvious also, they wouldn’t. Then how did he get that name?

At this point you are probably thinking that I could simply have selected another name and avoided the issue completely. But I liked the way it sounded so I didn’t want to take the easy route just yet. There had to be a way for this to make sense.

Craven means to be cowardly, frightened, fearful. So if it wasn’t his name it was a nickname given to him because that was how he acted as a child. Who would be able to give a nobleman’s son such a nickname. It couldn’t be anyone outside the aristocracy, and a father may well try and keep his son’s cowardace under wraps. So it had to be a member of his family, maybe a brother or a sister. The nickname need not have any basis in reality, it might just be used to tease him. Siblings can be cruel to each other after all.

I now have a character who is a noble’s son whose nickname is Craven because he may or may not be cowardly. Where to from here?

What could possibly happen to turn someone like that into an assassin, and adopt Craven as his name? Whetever it was it needed to be significant. Life changing. Something that would require him to give up his old life for something completely different.

Well, if you are interested, you can read what happened here… I give you Craven – Blood of the Father

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