Author Sarah Beth Durst shares how she created the character Daleina for her newest novel The Queen of Blood. Enjoy this latest installment of Paper Droids’ Backstory.
I didn’t want to write about the Chosen One. As much as I love chosen-one stories — and I do — in my new book The Queen of Blood, I wanted to write about the one who isn’t picked to save the world: the mediocre student. The one who lacks innate talent and skill. The one who has to work at it and work hard to be on the same playing field as the natural heroes.
I wanted to write about an ordinary person who wants to do extraordinary things.
That’s where the character of Daleina was born. She wants to be a hero — and not because she wants glory or fame. She doesn’t. She just wants to be strong enough to protect her family and her people. In other words, she wants to keep bad things from happening.
And lots of bad things happen in Renthia.
Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and only certain women — queens — have the power to control them and keep them from killing all humans. It’s a world of both extreme beauty and incredible danger. And it was very, very fun to write!
I love worldbuilding. Always have. When I was a kid, I spent hours and hours making up worlds. I’d scour the house for pieces of scrap paper, tape them together, and draw maps of imaginary lands. I’d doodle pictures in the margins of my notebooks of plants and animals for those lands, and I’d fill them with talking animals, sentient trees, and heroic characters.
Recently, I was asked which comes first, the character or the world. I said the world, then I changed my mind and said character, then I switched back to world again. The truth is that they are intertwined; the world both shapes the character and serves the character. You create a world that fits what story you want to tell, but the parameters of that world define who your character is and what she or he wants, fears, and does.
So, Daleina exists both because of and in defiance of this perilous world. I gifted her with loving parents who believe in her and a little sister whom she wants to protect. Then I exposed her to the risk of losing them — in the first chapter of the novel, there’s a spirit attack on Daleina’s home village. All of that shaped her, transforming her into a wannabe hero.
I am fascinated by the concept of heroes and how they’re born or made. It’s a topic you see a lot in fantasy literature, because fantasy is such an ideal place to test characters. Fantasy allows you to explore facets of human nature in a very extreme way. Because you aren’t constrained by the limitations of reality, you can expose your characters to the extremes of human experience and endurance. See what shapes them. See what breaks them.
I think I owe apology letters to a lot of my characters.
That’s one of the difficult things about being a writer. You create these characters that you fall in love with, then you have to make terrible things happen to them. But then again, you also get to feel the joy of bringing them through it all. You get to watch them grow. At least, the ones that survive…
With Daleina, I loved writing about a person whose true “magic” is her determination. She isn’t given a magic sword or amulet or book. There’s no prophecy about her or any expectation that she’ll ever do anything extraordinary. She isn’t destined to save the world. She has to choose her own destiny. hat’s part of why I wanted to write her. I believe — or more accurately, I want to believe — that we all can choose our own destiny.
The Queen of Blood is now available from Harper Voyager. Sarah Beth Durst is also the author of Drink Slay Love, the basis for the upcoming TV movie of the same name, airing on Lifetime in 2017. Her latest book for kids, The Girl Who Could Not Dream, is available from HMH/Clarion Books. She is the winner of the 2013 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times.
//Images via Wikimedia and courtesy of Sarah Beth Durst.