Guest Post: Developing Characters in the Midst of Battle

I am pleased to have writer, James Mace, author of Soldier of Rome: The Legionary as a guest blogger today and I will be reviewing the book here on Acting Balanced tomorrow!     James Mace has served in the U.S. military since 1993 and has made the Roman Army a life study. He is a full-time soldier with the Idaho Army National Guard and a veteran of the Iraq War. He wrote numerous articles on bodybuilding and physical fitness before turning his attention to historical novels. He lives in Meridian, Idaho.

Character development is an interesting concept for me, and one that is also the most difficult. I find that writing epic force-on-force battles with tens-of-thousands of combatants in graphic detail that the reader can both see and feel is all too easy. I can literally do that all day; however, what is difficult is when you have to add depth and personality to the individual characters. When doing a series, one also has to continuously develop each character and make them grow within the concept of the story. In Soldier of Rome, Artorius is seventeen at the start of the series. By the end of the fourth book, The Centurion, which came out in January, Artorius is thirty. I’ve had readers ask how I go about having him develop and mature so that his age is believable. The short answer: I have no idea. Since Artorius is in a sense a projection of me, I suppose it is easier to simply give him personality traits that I had, or others of my age at that time had.

One often overlooked key to character development is giving them flaws. If a character is too perfect, they simply are not believable. One must also give them room to grow, especially if they are younger at the start of a series. One criticism I received regarding the second book, The Sacrovir Revolt, is that Artorius does not develop enough. This was tricky, because Sacrovir covers a shorter time span than the others in the series. Artorius is twenty-two at the beginning of the book, and he is still twenty-two at the end. The person reviewing this book was probably not aware that it is part of a larger series, and so I could not have him develop too much. If I completed his character growth when he’s twenty-two, then I would have nothing left to do with him when he’s thirty.

Developing the secondary characters happened more or less by accident. Some who meant to simply add comic relief actually ended up playing a far larger role in the series than I originally intended. Personally, I think the easiest way to grow a secondary character is to use someone you know whose personality would make a good template and then allow the events that happen in the story to shape the character’s growth.

I admit that character development does get a bit overshadowed in The Legionary, given the scale of events that are taking place. The legion is constantly moving from one battle to the next, and so the growth of characters takes place in the brief interludes between these events. Seeing as how this is a series, there is a lot more time for development than in a stand-alone novel. Artorius is only nineteen at the end of the book, so he is still very young.