The Art of Character Development
By Kate Klimo, The Children’s Book Review
Published: February 27, 2012
Kate Klimo talks about character development for “Centauriad: Daughters of the Centaurs” (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012), the first book in her new series.
What’s in a Centaur’s Pocket?
How does a centaur dress? How does a centaur go to the bathroom? What do a centaur’s home furnishings look like? What do centaurs eat? And what is it like to inhabit a body that is half-horse? These are just some of the scads of questions for which I had to know the answers before I could even sit down to write Daughter of the Centaurs. The inimitable Martin Scorsese says that you have to know what is in your characters’ pockets before you can put them on the screen. Well, I had to figure out whether centaurs even had pockets before I could fill them and then put them on the page. Where to even start?
Doing research for a fantasy novel is a tricky business. After all, it isn’t our world. But it does need to have a certain internal logic, which is to say that it needs to make sense within its own context. Being a fantasy writer is a little like being a god of the Deist school. You devise the World Machine—with all its spinning wheels and cogs and gears—and then you wind it up and see if it works. The first order of business was to research centaurs in myth. This, I told myself, might provide me with some crucial cogs and gears, if not the whole machine.
Centaurs are a manifestation of the human psyche and imagination that first showed itself in the days of antiquity. I read about Chiron, the wise centaur who taught Hippocrates—Father of Modern Medicine—the healing arts. So far so good. But then all the other centaurs I went on to read about were pretty much a pack of bloodthirsty louts, the offspring of Ixion and Nelphele. They were also thought to be the children of Centaurus who mated with the Magnesian Mares. This tribe of composite horse and human dwelled in Magnesia and Mount Pelion in Thessaly and on the Malean Penninsula.
The central story in myth starring centaurs cast them as arch villains, as lawless gang members who crashed a wedding of the Lapithians, who were actually the centaurs’ human cousins. The centaurs ran off with the Lapithian bride and all of the female guests. Those centaurs all had names. There is a long list of them. There are females listed but female centaurs aren’t featured in the Wedding Crashers story; nor are they pictured in any of the sculptures depicting centaurs until much later in history. As far as I could make out, the centaurs represented the lower appetites at war with civilized behavior.
This gave me the idea of creating a highly civilized centaurean society that, by the time the central action of Daughter of the Centaurs opens, has risen above its base nature and learned to control its animal appetites. It had done so through the teachings of a wise centaur named Kheiron (a bow to the Chiron of myth.) When Kheiron first came among the centaurs they were so murderous that they had, in fact, wiped out one of the last human cities and occupied it. Kheiron had taken these lawless louts in hand and preached to them the virtues of vegetarianism, temperance, and non-violence. Some of the centaurs rejected the teachings of Kheiron and ran off to pursue their lawless ways (these “Wild Centaurs” make their appearance in the second book of the trilogy, The Backbone of Heaven.) It is Kheiron who persuades the centaurs to erect a monument to the humans they have slaughtered; the monument that Malora, the last human, comes across by accident one day.
Giving the centaurs a history—and a religion and a code of ethics (based on the teachings of Kheiron)—was the first step toward finding out what was in the “pockets” of my centaurs. If these centaurs were reformed and refined, then it stood to reason that they wouldn’t walk around buck-naked. They would clothe their horse halves, because they were covering—which is to say denying—their animal natures. So I devised a kind of toga that draped over one shoulder and wound around their torsos and their horse halves, covering their naughty bits. So, no, they don’t have pockets but they would have pouches on their belts. In those pouches, they would have nubs, the centaurean currency, a flask of scent, and possibly a brush or a comb. There! I’ve filled the centaurs’ pockets. From there, I worked outward.
Kheiron had turned the centaurs onto the virtues of craftsmanship. As he says, “It is the Hand and the work of the Hand that separate us from the beasts.” So the centaurs practice and revere craftsmanship: weaving and pottery and jewelry and painting and sculpture and cosmetics and perfume. I made one of my central characters, Orion, an alchemist, a maker of exotic scents because, as he says: “Scents have the power to alter moods and to set the tone of society.” Centaurs in Mount Kheiron walk around with hankies drenched in custom scents in order to shield themselves from their equine odors because, let’s face it, horses are funky! So centaurs are in the constant process of overcoming their horse-halves. I decided that since these centaurs were so civilized, they couldn’t possibly wallow in straw-filled stalls. They would require spacious, elegant homes with shallow steps and sturdy but beautifully designed benches and beds that would enable them to fold themselves up neatly and sit or recline without sprawling. They would have bathrooms that would feature grates and spray attachments that would allow centaurs to hose themselves off (like equine bidets).
As Malora discovers and adapts to the ways of the centaurs, so will readers. It is my hope that they will enjoy their stay in Mount Kheiron so much that they will want to return to visit the wider world outside of Mount Kheiron in future books in The Centauriad.
Thanks for inviting me to blog and happy reading!
Discover more articles from Kate Klimo’s Daughter of the Centaurs blog tour:
2/20 Tynga’s Reviews
2/21 Insatiable Readers
2/23 Literary Escapism
2/24 Total Bookaholic
2/27 LitFest Magazine
3/1 Sea of Pages
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