About Character Creation and Gifts of the Auldtree - E.L. Lyons

6 Dec 2023

Character creation for the Gifts of the Auldtree series was probably the most exciting thing I’ve done as a writer and I think it’s one of the things that makes some people love the book, and others not so much.

Any time you do something quite different as a writer, you have to be prepared for people to not connect with it, to not understand it, not even notice it, or to just flat out hate it.

Oftentimes, character creation is something that happens in a very organic way, and that’s usually the case with me. However, for Starlight Jewel (book 1 in Gifts of the Auldtree), purely for my own enjoyment because I had no intention to publish, I did things different.

After I wrote out a few test scenes, did some research on trees and animals, and started coming up with the worldbuilding aspects and lore of the book, I sat down at my laptop and wrote out my first paragraph, which is much unchanged since.

“Quickstep and softstep are the gifts of the flesh. Keenscent and keenears are the gifts of the base senses. Heartseer and nightseer are the gifts of true sight. Effacer is the gift of forgotten faces, that which can render even the most beloved a stranger, removing the mark of them from history itself.”

Starlight Jewel is the first book in the Gifts of the Auldtree series

Perhaps I’m too much an LotR/Star Wars junkie, but this just felt right. It felt right in my bones, and I get a complaint here and there but I maintain this paragraph as a hill I’m happy for my book to die on. And when I wrote it, I realized that it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough to just have these gifts as extra qualities tacked onto characters, I wanted it to be an integral part of who each of them were as characters. So I took my animal research a step further and looked at what parts of the brain and body each of these senses/qualities was associated with, and what personality traits each of those parts was associated with in humans. Whatever gifts each character has determines their personality, or sometimes the other way around.

This created a cast of characters that is just slightly off the beaten path from a “normal” human cast of characters. Like animals, many of the hybrids don’t hold grudges in the same way humans do, some have a sort of “pack-first” loyalty, others go with the flow like birds in a murmuration, others, like the main character, lash out in fear and sometimes can’t quite reconcile the human parts of themselves with the sprygan parts.

In all my time watching animals in my backyard and mindlessly getting sucked into documentaries on various beasts, there is a theme of balance that arises. The animals nip at each other and fight for their place and sometimes even kill each other, but at the end of the day, everything returns to normal. There are territories and factions and divides, but all in all, they work with a cohesiveness that isn’t possible in humans due to our sense of individual self.

So was born one of the main themes of the book: self vs selfless vs selfish. The MC struggles with being perfectly selfless, at the top of the pack so to speak, but having the innate human desire to form an identity apart from that group.

This comes to the forefront when the other hybrids find out about her new identity, and a friend betrays her.

Usually betrayal in a book is the means for a longstanding rivalry and resentment, but the MC understands too well her own selfish betrayal of the group, understands too well that in a very non-human way, she’s the one in the wrong, even if that human side of her feels otherwise. There is no long-held grudge, she is still part of the group, and her identity is taken from her.

It also created a lot of tension in the hybrid society, because no hybrid has all the gifts, so some are more human, and some more sprygan. Baj for instance—very sprygan on the outside, but with some very human traits emotionally and mentally. So in contrast to many of the hybrid characters, she has long and drawn out revenge plans.

These sorts of things happened naturally throughout the book, small ways in which things don’t happen the way they would in a normal cast of characters.

How has this gone over with readers? It seems to be hit or miss. I didn’t point too much of this out directly in the book, and even when it’s implied, such things are easily forgotten or glossed over or not really understood.

Some readers have pointed out that they simply don’t relate to the characters—which makes a lot of sense given that they weren’t written to be entirely human. Some have felt the characters are doing things just to drive the plot forward, and their behavior isn’t natural or what-that-character-would-do, which again, is understandable, as it’s not what a typical human character would do. It’s more like what a puma or a bear or a starling would do. But I maintain that my characters have never had any measure of respect for my plots and plans, and more often ruin them than drive them forward.

Despite the small criticisms though, people have largely had a positive reaction to the characters, and a few have even noted in reviews or messages how much they enjoyed how the characters and lore and hybrid society were so intertwined in that way.

If you read the book and want to try and match up the gifts and personalities, I wrote this little snippet from the PoV of an Ashite academic about hybrid anatomy and physiology that goes over some of the gift-personality associations: https://lyonspen.com/hybridaandp/

If you like what you are reading, you can order Starlight Jewel using this link.

About E.L. Lyons


E.L. Lyons is the author of Starlight Jewel. Her first published novel and the first entry in the Gifts of the Auldtree series.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Regent University. She’s worked as a pool manager, beauty department manager, relief counselor at a youth shelter and as a live-in caregiver. She hopes to finish her next novel from a loft overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.