Empyraeum Video Blog Episode Four : Characterisation

Some people say plot and setting are more important than characterisation because the former shapes the latter anyway. Others say character drives everything. Of course, both capms are correct because it completely depends on what kind of story you are writing.
Is it plot-driven tale of epic proportions with a cast of way too many to pay sufficient attention to or a character-driven oddyssey where the choices and deveolopment of one person drive everything else? It can be both but that, my friends, is incredibly hard to achieve well.


The Empyraeum Cycle started off as a collection of such character-driven story arcs; first person short stories in the the Collections and tales riven predominantly by one character or another (though mainly from a third person perspective) in the the Novellas. The Empyraeum Trilogy of novels is going to be set in third person and will, as you may well have seen, have quite the cast of characters. Of course, there will be some characters who complete their own version of the famous “Hero’s Journey” throughout; Sean Ollimur, the mysterious Kat, Gabriel, and some others, together with their vast supporting cast. This is what makes Empyraeum such an ambitious project; it is aiming to be a part of the Space Opera genre, as well as something quite different; combining ancient history, sci-fi, myth, magic. and cyberpunk together with another influence or few. Those that have paid attention to artworks we have released can see many of those influences already.

Character Journey


Of course your character is expected to set out on a journey as part of the story, to leave behing their comfortable life – either willingly or unwillingly – to discover a new one along the way, as well as discovering a thing or two about themselves in the process. This is, of course, something we like to call character development.


As humans in our regular lives, I doubt any of us is exactly the same person we were in our teens. As life progresses and we experience, as well as learn, new things, we see the world differently and, whether we realise it or not, it changes us. I will use a personal example here; when my wife and I met, I had just come out of a period of incomparible difficulty and chaos I had allowed into my life; I was a nervous and insecure person in many ways. Over time I slowed down and, with her pregnancy and the birth of our daughters, my wife claims I underwent an incredible transformation. A positive one, of course, into a steady, calm, and decisive person who was afraid of nothing, at least n the surface. Now she doesn’t know I used to be like this decades ago and simply, thanks to her love and support, managed to recover my old self back, with a positive change or two thrown in.
There is a lesson in this; not all change is new. Your character can experience trauma and recover a part of themselves they had thought forever lost. Not all backward motion is bad.


A character must change, though, for a major character that remains changless from their first appearance to their last is a two-dimensional one. This should be avoided unless said character is a Lesson.


A what? A Lesson. Let us say that Main Character is resisting a change they must undertake, a decision they must make, a direction theu must travel in in order to achieve their goal. Two-dimensional character does not change and suffers some mishap – either a permanent or temporary one – and serves a wake-up call to the Main Character; often taking the required step in order to honour the noble sacrifice – or stubborn stupidity – of said character.


A Warning to New Writers


Neither race nor gender defines a character. There is much pressure these days towards inclusivity. One must have a racially, sexually, and community diverse cast in your works. Must one? In my opinion, only if it fits.


In the Chronicles of Enoch, the cast is delightfully diverse because of the worlds it is set in. Ancient Eastern civilisations, lost lands, modern-day Atlanta and Albuquerque, to name just a few. Atlanta, for example, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities I have visited and lived near; East Asians of all kinds, Indians (from India) and Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Latins of all kinds, African Americans of infinite variety…it was impossible not to represent that diversity among my cast there.
In Empyraeum, the core cast, as it were, are more monoethnic; proto-Greeks mostly with a character or two thrown in. However, anyone that has spent any length of time in the London of our world must surely know that the Lùndùn of the Empyraeum is going to be rather similar, especially once it effectively becomes the capital of first the Union and then resistance against the same. It’s only to be expected that a taste of London be found in Empyraean Lùndùn.


Now, none of my more ‘diverse’ characters started out as any particular race of belief. Acora the Kalshodar leader of the Sons of Nemesis just seemed to suit the race he took on in the artworks of him; his developing character seemed to demand it. Paxxi, the nonbinary trans augmented hacker character, just seemed to fit their chosen identity. Commander Soong appeared to develop his own personality and background.
You see, the Empyraeum was founded on the idea of diversity, in its way, because Alexander never tried to impose Greek views of the world upon those nations he conquered. In fact he even adopted Persian and Babylonian customs himself and recruited people from those nations into his army. It stands to reason that he would not change that philosophy as he began to found the Empyraeum. In fact, in deveoloping ESG or Empyraen Standard Greek, we intentionally chose diverse linguistic influences from both extremes of the Empyraeum as some of the dominant ones in order to represent that.


My point? If the colour, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender of a character has nothing to do witrh their role in the story or development thereof, why include it? In many works, some such things are implied but never directly told. Anne Rice’s vampires are said to be bisexual but she has never directly said it. In the Chronicles of Enoch, there is talk about Asmodeus and Julian’s relationship but, I assure you, I will never go into depth on that because it doesn’t affect their story (and what some of your have imagined is quite impossible anyway).
In Empyraeum, Paxxi’s identity is mentioned but they go on to be somewhat dismissive of it themselves and assert that it really is not something they think about a lot, people respect it anyway.
The danger for those thinking inclusivity is mandatory is making a character of one archetype or another just to tick a box and creating a potentially harmful stereotype or obvious insert as a result; a character who behaves as they always did and not how someone of their ethnicity, community, or identity would; that there is no reflection of that aspect of their character anywhere in their behaviour or such behaviour is forced and artificial.


That will hurt the cause far more than the lack of such a character might.
Giving them Free Rein
I have often joked about this myself, often at length. That saying we writers have that characters appear to write themselves sometimes. Asmodeus started off as a boss-mobster-monster in the prologue and a single chapter and a half before dying later on as a plot device. Sham was a generic Mentor-to-The-Chosen-One character in the abandoned Trinity series. Both came to dominate their respective series and, I have chuckled, appear to have rebelled against their creator. In actuality, I do so love the trickster type character; the heroic anti-hero type who at times does the wrong things for the right reason; one that will do the things the heroes cannot but which need to be done.


I do enjoy getting inside the head of the complex manipulator who genuinely thinks that he is doing the right thing even though, on occasion, his best plans aft gan aglen! His motivations are always the most interesting and intriguing. Both Sham and Asmodeus as good people, deep down (though you have to dig a lot deeper with Asmodeus), and doing what they think is the only possible way to help those they care about.


The fact is that Sham and Asmodeus are extreme examples of the Free Rein Principle (patent pending) but they are also excellent illustrations of it. Their characters and the story itself needed them and their previously planned roles expanded to fit the need; enhancing the story rather significantly. Let your character be what your story needs them to be, is the lesson in that.


Sham became Indian because it suited him, Asmodeus became ethnically indefinable because that’s who he is; a powerfully chameleonic personality.


Let your character be who she, she, it, or they need and ‘want’ to be; not who you or the nebulous ‘they’ of the internet think they should be.


Conclusion


As you have seen, characterisation is often the hardest part of the art of writing. Who your character is, what they are, their thoughts and motivations, will actually shape the story around them. At times, they will shape the story and at others, it will shape them. All of our previous episodes and ‘lessons’ also come into play here because the fabric; the context of your world and your story are important because the ‘rules’ you have built into it will influence what your character can do and, therefore, how they can change. The influences and crises that will push this change will also be controlled by the environment in which they find themselves.


In short, you must realise that both story, plot, and character may well change one another unexpectedly. A challenging situation one character finds themselves in has multiple ways out of it and you had, previously. chosen route A. However, as your character develops, you realise that this course of action does not suit the character at all; in fact route B doesn’t either, only route C does. Route C, however, leads to unexpected developments in the story and some retrospective editing on your part. As annoying as this might be, I think it’s more important to be true to the character then to your original outline. right? It makes the story feel more organic and natural as it were.

Blog Episode Two – Contextual Setting

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So; you have created characters, you have a story, you have background, you have built a world and all of its rules, this is excellent. This is shiny and good, it has sparkle!
When one is thinking of making something beautiful out of whatever one discovers in the bottom drawer, one needs not only imagination and purpose, one normally needs some kind of glue or other to make all of the pieces come together and, as it were, unify.


Back in the days when Scratchy was still young, the tribes of Eire would, at times, need to communicate from afar and in secret. They would find highly reflective stones or would polish bits of metal and try to direct the light of the sun onto them. Using a code, they would flash a simple message to their compatriots. In later times, I heard about some war in distant Ippon over trade, the natives of an island under Navajo protection has been inconvenienced and the trade deal had become much less voluntary than they would have liked. In order to keep their movements and tactics over telelegon secret, they spoke to one another in the old language of their ancestors, a tongue even the most applied Ipponese intelligence officer could not know.


Eventually, like all codes will be, it was cracked but they found that the messages made no sense. Now, the Ipponese should have – with their own very lyrical and at times metaphorical language, have thought about this but they did not.


They lacked the context, in this case the cultural context that shaped the way Na-Dene is spoken and how it describes certain things, events, and even people; its slang and idioms. The Navajo has invented layered encryption and their innovation became the new standard across both the Empyraeum and beyond.
There is a valuable lesson in this.


How many hours, weeks, and days have you spent writing, rewriting, developing characters, creating art for them, perfecting, researching, rewriting again, refining….and so on until you knew the inside of each character’s head and their ‘life’ perhaps better even than your own?

Shiny indeed.


Now, we all know the dangers and the pitfalls of a new author’s path; we know the silly rules and the concensus opinions on commas, adverbs, and so forth. We have also heard of that of which we must not speak; the infomation dump. If you are writing an academic essay, research paper, text book, a book for Dwarves, or are being paid by the word, info dumps are fine and shiny. If you are, however, not writing one of these effulgent items, then it is not always so welcome. It is, in fact, mostly considered dull and boring.
So, that takes the polish off the gemstone doesn’t it? Now what?
Context, my friends, context.


How does one do that o-wise and be-bereted one? Simple.


How do human babies (the less we talk about goblin babies the better) learn what you people disgustingly call their milk tongue? By hearing it, by repeating it, by praticising it…by speaking!


Ah, you wise and shiny goblin, you cry! You’e talking about dialogue aren’t you? Yes. Yes, I am talking about dialogue, among other things. We have mentioned before a movie made by a certain Antipodean (from the Land of Dream) bearded fellow who did not even try to represent goblins in a good light. Yet he did something beautiful. In his movie he made sure every last possible detail was covered, every weapon, piece of armour, even personal items and imperfectations were present if not conciously seen. He told a story in silence which provided both belief and context.


I digress not at all by mentioning Patchy’s fine works at this point. He is good at that, building consistency and context into his work. He makes many things standard, and many things unique, as is needed. He will standardise armour types so it is clear that Kalshodar armour, Dracograth armour, and even epibatoi armour comes from the same place. You can see that all Empyraen vehicles were made by the same factories. Yet you can see how different characters have personalised their gear, how they carry different items, wear different badges, and so forth. That tells a small story about them.


You as writer today have so many places to drop your context and have people look and enjoy; you have social media, websites, blogs such as this, my fine audio-visoohaahl work, Patchy’s masterpieces, even Scratchy’s sneaky little bits and pieces he scatters around for as youse to find. Your world is not nly needing to be just inside a book any more. In fact, eBooks are opening you all kinds of new doors now!


Back to how they speak though, right? Yes, yes indeedy-pie, sir/madam/other/none!
The idea behind ESG started simple. Change a few names, alter a few ideas and linguisic constructs, give a feel for a different world in simple little casual exchanges of no apparent consequence. Then it got bigger, as these things often do. But the idea remains the same. A little causal ‘overheard’ conversation, a throwaway comment, a far-speaker in the background, a newspaper article the character reads while waiting for something important to happen. All these things give data, provide background, give context without interrupting the flow of the story. Not only that, but they feel natural in way no info dump ever can.


See, here is Sham, our good mate, doing regular people stuff as regular people do. Good old Sham, he does things like we do, we like Sham! We like Sham so we listen to what he has to say…see where the rat is running here? Towards the shine because rats are clever little bleeders.


Your job is not just to make the shine but to lead your readers towards it like a boss rat with his pack, see? Does you find the rat and force food down his gob til he chokes or does you leave some good quality victs out somewhere for him to find so that up he comes to snaffle ’em and….BANG!…he’s inna trap? Right! You leads, you doesn’t force. You drops crumbs for him to follow but you leaves the real shiny stuff for the trap, right?


Now you get it! Same as with your readers, you drops lilli hints and clues along the way to keep ’em sniffing but you leaves the real shine for them to find for themselves and think ‘what a clever little fellow am I, what with all this shine what is mine!’ right before – BANG! – you got ’em…
And, yes, me letting me ‘inner goblin’ slip out, as it were, was also me giving you some sniff and context.

The Language of the Empyreaum (Là Glostèan Empyraen)

ESG (technically it’s LGE – Là Glostèan Empyraean – but I chose to keep it simple and produce intresting acronyms) was the result of several years of soldiers from across the Empyraeum trying to determine the location of the mess tent or latrines during the Bloodless Conquest. Six million soldiers, artisans, merchants, and the numerous other professions that support what was effectively a mobile city, two hundred and fifty languages, many more dialects…Greek was no longer the predominant language of this force of unequalled size and people had to communicate.
It started with various pidgins and cants, a word here, a phrase there – this thing is called that and you say this in this fashion, it costs this many – but, eventually, words and phrases started to integrate and spread, especially those not meant to be heard in polite company! Soldiers are rarely know for their smooth tongues and gentle manner, after all.
Nobody really knows how it started, it was not recorded, no one group sat down and decided, it ws purely organic osmosis and people doing what people do best; taking what they have and making it work. Eventually, a universal argot started to emerge; every soldier knew it and you can be certain that everyone who made a living taking their wages away from said soldiers knew it. Alexander got to hear about it when his Kalshodar and Dracograth (many of whom, such as Neshaa, were not Greek by birth and had struggled to learn their King’s speech) started to use it and he was delighted, he took it as an omen; his cultural melting pot blending together nicely, no longer were they Greeks, Perisans, Sythians, Celts and so on; they were something new and were creating something new together. He knew this boded well for the Empyraeum to come.
With each country conquered and each fresh batch of recruits added, the flavour of the argot changed as the shiny-faced young men and women in search of adventure added their own languages and dialects to the mix. So delighted was Alexander with this developing language that he made his first formal edict to the new Empyraen Senate, the task of formalising this argot into what would become Empyraen Standard Greek. The greatest minds of the whole Empyraen descended on Alexandria-The-First and debate with lively and passionate. Alexander smiled to see it because, once again, people from all over the new Empyraen were, after a fashion, working together and, once the bruises had faded, forcing a unified identity into being.
Empyraen Standard Greek or ESG was formalised on Gamelia 25th, HA7. The first Lexicóm Empyrean was produced and distributed from Manchuria to Eiré over the following years, to schools, libraries, and town/city halls.
Of course, individual nations kept their own versions, brought by soldiers or merchants who were either returning home or starting a new life elsewhere. ESG is the formal language of the Empyraeum but there are hundreds of vulgar dialects thereof.
To practise;
“Nera ú chalk mug siú éjookaíd drúsa” – An ugly conman finds little business
“Gwyn-ía espry, gage. Sui oy-toy shy yonks anoí.” – Dude, Gwy’s (he is) gone. He surely got captured ages ago.
“Shy itú tevo-éi kat dú la-choir, ma geall” – That sneak is a police informer, I’m sure of it!
“Itù laebh tì èjookàid gamma orì anoì!” – You’ve been staring at that book for three hours now!

[Note; for the purposes of invention, we have focussed on five languages, together with some artistic license, to create ESG. Those languages are the ones we felt worked best together and made the most coherent combination. Ancient and Modern Greek, Nepali & Burmese, Gujarathi and Sanskrit, and Scots/Irish/Welsh Gaelic.]

Empyraeum Videos Now Live!

The Empyraeum YouTube Channel is now live and we aim to present regularly a new series of background and writing skills videos!


We decided to divide our video blog entries into chapters, as if they were a book and the first chapter will be on Worldbuilding, something we consider essential to both the writer;’s art and the success of both your book and your own writing career. When you build an immersive, consistent, and fully-realised world, you open up a wealth of experiences to your readers and give them opportunities to truly feel like they are somewhere else.

For The Empyraeum Cycle, a world whose history seperated from our around 3,000 years ago, it highlights and draws our audience’s attention to those differences, especially when it comes to the language which evolved in the Empyraeum, ESG or Easy-G which evolved from 6 million people, from 250 nations, trying to ask one another where the latrines were and what was for dinner that night.


Notice that the Empyraeum’s image is now fully consistent and realised. This, too, is important as a writer in these online times. Be bold, be consistent, be different, be what you want readers and fans to love; stand out!
More episodes to come…