Thoughts on Writing – Combining Characters Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about a couple characters of whom I decided not to combine in Distant Horizon, and why. Today I’m going to talk about a couple characters who I very well might combine into a single, hopefully stronger character, in The Shadow War.

I’ve been plotting for The Shadow War (book two after Magic’s Stealing) for a little while now, and when I was telling Isaac about some of my ideas last week, he suggested that I consider combining two of my characters who will be introduced in the second book. Let’s take a look at the characters in question: Nihestan and Shalant.

Both characters are secondary. They’re important to the plot, but they’re not main characters. Each serves to aid the character of Daernan (Toranih and Daernan each have their own point of view in this story), but in different ways.

Nihestan Nivasha is Cirenan-born, a weapon’s mage, and has dealt directly with Shevanlagiy and Lord Menchtoteale (the bad guys from the first book). Nihestan also works closely with Madiya, the goddess of the dead (who features more prominently in the Cantingen patheon than Cirenan) and he leans toward the immortal spectrum thanks to a run-in with unicorns. (Unicorns aren’t exactly the friendliest creatures in the Cirenan universe).

In the current draft, Nihestan plays the role of a cynic, always watching the world and being wary of the future… mostly because he got a glimpse of the potential damage that the Wishing Blade could do (his weapon’s magic allows him to see potential and past acts of violence within an object). He’s actively trying to thwart Isahna, the trickster god, and has been undercover for many years to protect his family.

He also knows a bit about how glass-stone works (though he’s still trying to figure out the finer points of the confounded stuff), which is one of the reasons that Daernan gets involved with him.

Then there’s Shalant. He’s Cantingen-born, a word mage, and something of a seer. Daernan first runs into him when he goes to the temple in Ashan, where he finds Shalant using his word magic to help the high priestess after the stealing. Shalant acts as an enthusiastic (if slightly wary) mentor. His knowledge of the gods and (word) magic often comes in handy, and his ability to use word magic is crucial in fighting the shadows. As a seer, he knows a bit more than he should (especially regarding Shevanlagiy), and he’s spent some time working with Nihestan on the mage’s glass-stone project.

Now, the problem I was having is that many of the scenes I plotted in my head could work well for both Nihestan and Shalant. Other than their cynical versus enthusiastic personalities, and their ribbon versus word magic capabilities, they play similar roles.

There’s a particular scene I’ve been planning that involves a confrontation with Shevanlagiy, one which works similarly well with both characters.

If Nihestan confronts her, he uses his knowledge of glass-stone and weapon’s magic against her. But now that I’ve been thinking about it, I need to decide whether or not he’ll still have that magic. He has been working with the gods, and he knew the stealing was coming, so there’s a chance he could have prevented his magic from being lost.

If Shalant does the confrontation, he doesn’t have any personal stakes (other than potential foreshadowing for a future series idea that I have in mind), but his scrying would have given him insights that Shevanlagiy would prefer he doesn’t know… including a weakness that she herself doesn’t fully understand. The problem is that I’m afraid his character would open up the story to a new plot line that I’m not ready to delve into. I like the idea of bringing this guy’s character in, but I’m not sure it’s necessary for this particular story.

The two characters were getting lost in the crowd.With so many characters, I wasn’t sure what each one was doing at any particular moment.

So, when Isaac suggested that I try combining Nihestan and Shalant, I began picturing the resulting character and liked the result.

First off, Nihestan’s last name, Nivasha, sounds more Cantingen in origin than Cirenan, and vice versa for Shalant. I’d been toying with the idea that Nihestan had converted to the Cantingen pantheon at some point in his past, and the idea of combining these characters solidified that. He could have originally been Nihestan Shalant, and later taken the last name of Nivasha after his dealing with Madiya (or one of her agents). Thus, we would still get some insights into the Cantingen culture without pulling the main story too far off track (again, I’ve got that sequel series brewing in my head–though it will probably be a while before you see that–and it will likely deal heavily in Cantingen mythology).

Second, their combined knowledge would allow Nihestan to play a mentor figure… even if the person he’s mentoring is skeptical of his motives. It also stands to reason why he knows so much about Shevanlagiy, since he’s worked with her before, and his vast knowledge of things he technically shouldn’t know about would come from his time spent working with the gods.

Third, Nihestan as both a ribbon and word mage… whew!

He’s going to be a tough cookie in a fight. Seriously. Even if he’s without his ribbon magic, he would have word magic at his disposal… and perhaps be able to achieve a few plot points that I don’t want to spoil here.  The first book has a few lines of foreshadowing that could easily reference his character. Not only that, but he might actually be able to keep some of his ribbon magic through the use of word magic, since he already expected the stealing to come.

This allows the confrontation scene with Shevanlagiy to work smoothly. This version of Nihestan has personal stakes in the matter, and the ability to be a threat.

Fourth, I don’t have to keep track of who is doing what. The tough part comes if these two characters are doing completely separate actions, but I don’t think there will be too many problems there.

The other problem, however, is that where Shalant is playful, Nihestan is cynical.

Merging the personalities might prove tricky. Most likely, I’ll keep some of my original ideas of a younger Nihestan (who has a more carefree attitude), while giving him the wary outlook that comes with what he’s seen and knows.

As for Shalant, he may appear again in a different form with a different name… as he was apt to do in my plotting. (Seriously, in my super rough draft from many years ago, Shalant was an arrogant god who mentored Daernan mostly because he needed someone to represent the immortals… and had fun watching Daernan fumble. Very different character. I’m considering making a darker version of that character into a small-time antagonist for Toranih. Maybe. Not sure yet. We’ll see if it serves the plot).

I haven’t decided if this is the route I want to take, but I’m giving it serious consideration. Overall, I think the story will be stronger for the merge.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever combined any of your characters?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – Combining Characters Part 2

  1. I haven’t combined characters, but I have dropped a character (to use later in another work, perhaps a sequel), and given his actions/scenes to the remaining character. I had to do that to meet the request of a publisher that I reduce the number of characters. Now, though, about your two characters– As I was reading the description of their natures and skills, I found myself liking Shalant very much but being lukewarm about Nihestan. When I realized they were to be combined, I worried for Shalant. If you combine them, please don’t let him be cynical. I’d rather you kept them separate and just use one now. But, as you know, the story will force you to make the right decision, and it may not be what I want.

    • Honestly, if I drop Shalant’s character in this area, he may crop again in another story later, or in a different spot in this one (but with a different name). Like you, I really like his character.

      But I’m worried that he would muddle the plotting waters of the main story, since Nihestan’s character is needed specifically for other purposes I haven’t mentioned (avoiding spoilers). The good thing is that if I combine their personalities and purposes, Nihestan will likely be less cynical than before. He may be cynical, but at the same time, he may have playful moments that would have been designated to Shalant if he were in the area.

      There’s one plotline I’ve been thinking about including (I still need to decide if it will help the story or not), and if I do, Shalant may appear in that area (but with a different name). I’m not sure yet, though. It’s still very rough.

      Thanks for your input. 🙂

  2. In the spirit of writing, I champion Shalant’s continuance, all traits intact, same name. Do away with Nihestan! Of course, you must ignore my response, as I would in the same situation. Ah.

    • Ah, unfortunately Nihestan must remain. But it’s good to know Shalant’s character is liked. Perhaps he shall remain as a character, even if he does appear at a different place and time. And perhaps Nihestan shall redeem himself as a character you like. Only multiple drafts and revisions shall tell. 😉

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