In literary criticism, you often hear critiques of characters based on whether or not the character was realistic. But what does a realistic character look like when it comes to speculative fiction and why is it so important that a character feels realistic in worlds that are so wholly fantastic?

Is it easier to create realistic characters when writing in first or third person narrative point of view? Or does it depend entirely on you as a writer and how you find yourself getting inside the character’s head? A realistic character within the realm of fiction is very different to what a real person would look like and it is important to know the difference. Don’t be put off. It might sound like an insurmountable task to write a character with real depth, but all writing is about channelling human emotion. And luckily – we assume, anyway – we are all human and well versed in how we emotionally respond to all kinds of situations.

Live at Nine Worlds Geekfest 2017 in London, we posed the following questions to writers RJ Barker and Anna Smith Spark:

  • Why is it important to have realistic characters?
  • What makes a realistic character?
  • What makes a character unrealistic?
  • How do you make a character realistic amongst fantastical and bizarre situations and worlds?
  • What are some of your favourite characters? Were they realistic? What made them work for you?

Books mentioned in this episode include:

  • Age of Assassin’s by RJ Barker
  • A Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
  • Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Chronicles of Morgaine by C. J. Cherryh
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker
  • The Paladin’s Legacy by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield

RJ Barker lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been ‘that one with the book in his pocket.’ Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, RJ has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country.

He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.His debut Age of Assassins, from Orbit books, is now available in all major book stores, online and on Amazon.

Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom)

Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model.

Anna’s favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault.  She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, Book 1)