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The unexpected hero

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This week, Balance of Betrayal is published. Of all the books in the Bremmand Chronicles – including the ones still to be published – it is the one with the most unexpected characters.

By unexpected I don’t mean that they are strange or behave in peculiar ways (although maybe some of them do!). They are unexpected because, when I started planning the book, I never realised they would take on the importance that they did. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be exploring a few of these characters and, at the same time, shed light on character development from an author’s perspective.

I wanted to start with Tonnat. To give him his full name, he is Lord Tonnat, Earl of Olery. He’s a drunkard, a debaucher and the only member of he Bremmand aristocracy to have remained in his post once the Empire took control. He did this by making himself charming to the new Governor and playing the fool. The ultimate collaborator, in fact. Ah, I hear you say, a bad guy, then? Well, maybe…
I originally created Tonnat as an incidental character in Bremmand Lives and, from the writer’s perspective, he is a good example of how a character can change and evolve and become something different.

Tonnat was written because I needed someone to be a bad influence on Prince Perrold and to demonstrate Dale’s fearless use of his own authority when faced with that of nobility. Tonnat was an incidental character, appearing for a couple of pages and never to be seen again. In fact, I imagined that he, like all the other nobility, would perish in the fall of the kingdom.
Then, because I also needed someone to act as a influential friend to Lord Staval, I decided to resurrect him. In that guise, Tonnat became central to Balance of Betrayal – more so than I anticipated when I originally plotted the book – and, in truth, has grown and developed far beyond my own expectations.

In Balance of Betrayal he was the ideal choice for reuse because the scant characteristics I’d already created for this two dimensional character were that he was unreliable and yet immensely influential on those around him. I knew I needed that and to create something new stretches credibility for the reader (how many nobles in this place are wastrels?)and also require additional effort from me in building something new. As a writer, it always pays to take something ‘off the shelf’ if you can. In building a character you need to see them in your mind’s eye to write well for them – and that takes time for every new introduction. So Tonnat got a reprieve and returned to cause trouble in new and interesting ways.

Tonnat is one of those people with a character that you just love – attractive and amusing and able to get away with most things. He says the most outrageous things to people and yet they somehow forgive him and love him all the more for it. Quite early on, I wrote a banquet sequence where we see him moving from group to group talking to people. As he does, we see attitudes towards him change from disapproval to acceptance to amusement to fondness. For a character like Tonnat, a scene of this nature is a great way to showcase his skills in a subtle way for the reader. Just as the other characters in the book do, the reader starts to warm to him and to admire his skills as a charmer. They find themselves forgiving him for consorting with the enemy.

As I was writing him, I too began to fall for him. I created him as an example of the kind of person I dislike – unreliable, self-seeking and careless of his friends. As I grew warmer to him, I let his character grow where it would. I gave him redeeming features, made him entertaining and, in doing so, allowed him to redeem himself to some degree for his past transgressions. So much did I like him by now that, at the end of the book, I opened a door for him to feature again some day.

For, as a character, he’s gold! He’s entertaining (both to write and to read) and he is ambiguous. He collaborated to save his own skin – complicit, therefore, in a range of Empire atrocities – but his motivation for that suddenly becomes less selfish as we get to know him. This feckless troublemaker starts to talk about his people and their protection and how he has cow-towed to the Empire for their sake. So now the simple collaborator then – but someone trying to do right by others and using the only tools at his disposal to do that. It means that we don’t really know him at all.

I don’t know about you but, as his creator, I am now asking What next for Tonnat of Olery?

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to www.bremmandchronicles.co.uk
You can follow Cate on Twitter at www.twitter.com/catec23

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