April 11, 2014

Author Guest Post: Reflected by Rhiannon Held

Hey everyone! I'm so excited to be featuring the final book in the Silver trilogy, REFLECTED, by Rhiannon Held! It's an amazing werewolf trilogy and the author has graciously written up a post about her use of werewolves in the series. Read on for more info on the book and Rhiannon's post!

Reflected (Silver #3)

Author: Rhiannon Held
Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books


Falling in love in a werewolf pack leads to some very bad choices in this new novel from the author of Silver.

Rhiannon Held continues the secret lives of the werewolf packs that live and hunt alongside human society in Reflected, the third book of the series that began with her debut novel, Silver. Silver and her mate Andrew Dare are pack leaders of the entire North American werewolf population, and that makes the more traditional packs in Europe very nervous indeed. It’s getting hard to hide from human surveillance.

Exclusively Wolves 

When I set out to write the Silver series, I knew that I not only wanted to write about werewolves, but that I wanted to write about only werewolves. I had several narrative reasons for that decision, as well as the fact that I knew to stand out with a familiar urban fantasy critter, I needed to treat that critter in a new way, and having no human characters was bit more unusual.

When you study speculative fiction writing, there’s a concept you encounter fairly quickly called the “reader character.” A reader character is a character that the readers can project themselves into because of a similarity of situation in regards to the speculative world. They might be a human among vampires, feeling out of place as the human reader might feel among the undead; or a young cadet shipped out to the borders, marveling at outlying star systems, as the reader would marvel at such systems. Reader characters are also narratively useful because surrounding characters can explain things to them, and through them, to the readers.

The flip side of reader characters, especially in urban fantasy, is that when it comes to the moment of discovery, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If the character finds out about the supernatural before the book begins, they’re not really a newbie anymore. If they find out in the book, the author has a couple choices: the character can freak out or they can take it in stride.

Think about your own world changing in some major way—finding out a spouse never loved you, or your father you’d assumed dead for two decades has in fact been partying in Tijuana. Freaking out about that would likely not be a quick process, and finding out the supernatural exists is even more earth-shaking than either of those examples. You’d likely spend a lot of time thinking very similar thoughts, over and over. That’s boring to read. Yes, yes, says the reader, we know she “can’t believe it.” She said that six times already. But that’s realistic.

Okay, so let’s avoid boring the reader. The character takes the supernatural in stride! He always suspected something like that! Onward to battle! The trouble is, readers tend to take their reactions from characters’ reactions. After all, the character is in the situation the reader is only observing from outside, so if the character is yawning, the reader figures the situation must be pretty yawn-worthy. If the character is bored, the readers are bored. If the character takes the supernatural entirely in stride, the readers might not think anything of it either, and all the work that you put into crafting a creepy, atmospheric, thrilling, or scary magic system goes down the drain.

Somewhere in the middle, there’s a hypothetical thin log bridge above the chasm of reader boredom, where the character freaks out a little—but not too much! But any time you try to lean away from falling off one side, it brings you closer to falling off the other.

And is it truly necessary? Yes, reader characters are useful, but any writing technique is only good when its benefits outweigh the limitations it places on the story you want to tell. And lots of other urban fantasy series had walked the log bridge or fallen off it before me. I wanted to do something new!

What I wrote instead were exclusively immersed characters. Since, as I mentioned above, readers take cues from the characters, I wanted the readers to feel immersed in the new culture I had created for my Were. Certainly, I had to finesse some of my explanations so the readers didn’t get confused by any of the aspects of the world I was building, but explanations don’t always have to be through direct dialogue. Sometimes conveying an aspect of the world to the reader was as simple as making sure that aspect came up naturally for the characters so readers could observe it functioning in context.

Using exclusively immersed characters also fit the themes I was aiming for with the series. Rather than being cursed humans, my werewolves are born as a separate species. Having a clueless human dragged into a world of cursed werewolves fits the cursed werewolves’ common themes of struggling with addiction or temptation or adaptation. The reader character, after all, struggles with new information and possibly temptation as well. Having werewolf characters immersed in their own cultural world to the degree that they don’t even really care what the humans are up to as long as they leave the werewolves alone…that fits the themes I chose for my series, such as immigrants trying to maintain their ancestral culture against the dominant one and feeling like outsiders.

Of course, in my second book, I did decide to have a major human character. A lot of what I was talking about above are foundational elements for a series or world, and apply more to its construction in the first book than in subsequent books. But cunning readers will note that the human character found out about werewolves off-screen, so that while she occasionally does still need the details explained to her, she’s safely past her dangerous freak out/take in stride period. And since she’s past that period but still an outsider, she can provide what I most wanted for my series, which is a change of perspective, highlighting aspects of the culture that an immersed character would never think to notice or question. An immersed character can show you that something happens, but sometimes it takes an outsider character to say “Why does it happen?”

All of writing is a balancing act, to varying degrees. I may have only switched one log bridge for another in my world-building, but the themes and story possibilities that came along with that choice excited me so much I knew it was the right one for me. 

A huge thanks to Rhiannon for sharing her character perspectives with us when it came to the Silver trilogy and her werewolves!

Check out the first two books in the series:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13037538-silver   https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16059370-tarnished


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