A few years ago I went with my brother to hear Orson Scott Card read at Kepler’s Bookstore. I’m a huge fan of his Ender books and their message of communication and empathy. While I didn’t particularly enjoy Card’s presentation (I think my brother and I escaped before it was over), he gave one writing tip that I loved: the number of personalities you develop in your story is exponentially larger than the actual number of characters. Let me explain.
Take, for example, Hansel and Gretel. The fairy tale has five characters: mother, father, Hansel, Gretel, and witch. The mother views Hansel and Gretel as a burden — two more mouths she must feed, but to the witch they are a food source. Gretel acts dependent, complaining and whiny when she feels Hansel is responsible to find a way out of the forest, but she becomes strong and resourceful when she needs to rescue him from getting cooked. Each character has multiple personalities, depending on the other character with whom they are interacting in any given scene. See what I mean?
Some novelists are experts in character creation. In her debut novel, Born Wicked, Jessica Spotswood manages to create more than a dozen well-rounded characters whose relationships with each other are fluid, revealing often unexpected facets of their personalities and showing their growth. Amazing feat.
Born Wicked tells the story of sixteen year-old Cate Cahill as she wavers on the brink of adulthood. Cate lives in a world where women are inferior to men, and witches are feared and persecuted. Cate and her two sisters are witches, yet each of them has a different relationship with their magic. While Cate believes being a witch is wicked, one sister chooses to flaunt and the other to appreciate this gift. Once she turns seventeen, Cate must choose one of two options open to women: marry and become her husband’s property, or join the Sisterhood and dedicate herself to study.
But Cate promised her mother before she died to watch out for her sisters. She feels responsible for keeping her sisters safe and their magic hidden. She is torn between trying to protect the people she loves and the future that fate seems to force on her, and as always, suffering brings about personal growth, personal revelation, and many changes.
This is a perfectly crafted novel. Elegant, mesmerizing, and bewitching, filled with life-like, easy-to-love characters. Gushing moment alert: when, when is book two in the series coming out? I can hardly wait. I loved loved loved this novel! I can’t wait for the second one to come out. I want to know what happens to Cate next. I’m worried about her. I’m worried about her sisters. And I totally suspect that their father knows they are witches, even though they’re keeping it a secret from him. This the best kind of writing, when the characters stay with me long after the reading is done, like good friends with whom I want to keep in touch.